After a little over a year and two failed attempts, the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency of Sweden (Kammarkollegiat) finally officially approved an application in January made by 19-year-old Swedish philosophy student Isak Gerson to recognize the Missionary Church of Kopimism (Missionerande Kopimistsamfundet), and thus ‘Kopimism’ as a religion.
What is Kopimism? It is a religion based on the philosophical belief that “Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains, and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore, copying is central for the organisation and its members.”
Isak Gerson, co-founder of the Kopimism movement and the organization’s chair Gustav Nipe, were recently interviewed on the CBC Radio. In their respective interviews, both Gerson and Nipe explained that the process of becoming formally recognized by the government Agency as a religion was difficult because they had to demonstrate that Kopimism was in fact a faith. This required a showing of rituals and ‘spiritual language’ in their application. In true form, the Kopimists ‘borrowed’ the theological language of other organized religions to satisfy this requirement – although due to the fact that Kopimism is not focused on humans, concepts of heaven, hell or afterlife do not exist.
What then are the basic tenets of Kopimism? The website claims that knowledge, the circulation of knowledge and the act of copying are all sacred. Gerson proclaimed that “copying is holy and information is holy”, while Nipe believes that copying is central to life. Nipe drew parallels between natural evolution and societal evolution. He reasoned that when a child is born, DNA, language and other information is passed on naturally through copying and mimicking, thus copying an inherent and fundamental right.
The raison d’être of establishing Kopimism as a religion is to be guaranteed immunity from acts that could otherwise infringe copyright laws pursuant to Chapter 1, Article 2 of the Swedish Constitution Act. In a 2005 Swedish Supreme Court decision , the defendant Åke Green (a religious figure) was acquitted for hate speech on the basis that the freedom of religion and expression. The Court held that although he was not absolved from liability for his actions, the guarantee granted by the European Convention on Human Rights coupled with the history of case law demonstrated that the charges would not be upheld in a European Court in his particular circumstances. This is not to say that the acts of the Church or its members would be protected in the same manner in the event of copyright infringement.
When questioned about his position on copyright laws, Nipe argued that copyright law, unlike the right to copy is neither ethical nor moral. He proclaimed that the livelihood of creators and authors should not be supported via copyright laws because copyright is not a god given right. Nipe further commented that creation is not founded on ‘thin air’ and that as a result access to creation (and thus information) should not be restricted.
Kopimism is not formally recognized as a religion in Canada, nor is it likely that it ever will be. Even if it were recognized, it is unlikely that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee to ‘freedom of conscience and religion’ would override the Copyright Act in this case, or that such a religion would otherwise pass the two step Section 1 Charter limitation test articulated in R v Oakes  1 SCR 103.
Both the main website and the Canadian site indicate that the main tenets of the movement are the right to take [access] the information, remix it and re-release it without restriction: “All people should have access to all information produced. A gigantic Boosting Knowledge for humanity.”
Remixing and re-releasing copyrighted works lawfully obtained would not necessarily be considered infringement based on the proposed reforms to the Copyright Act under Bill C-11, since exceptions such as the ‘youtube’, parody and satire exceptions would be permitted, alongside Fair Dealing. However the Bill also endorses the enforcement of technological protection measures (TPM’s) which may serve to prevent unauthorized open access to copyrighted materials.
There are currently just over 10 Kopimism churches around the world – including the one in Canada – although the original Swedish church is the only one formally recognized as a religion. To become a Kopimist, one simply needs to read and agree to the values posted on the website and then sign up:
“The community of kopimi requires no formal membership. You just have to feel a calling to worship what is the holiest of the holiest, information and copy. To do this, we organize kopyactings – religious services – where the Kopimists share information with eachother through copying and remix. Copy and seed.”
The Church currently has just over 4000 members.
Courtney Doagoo is a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.