The IFTF Blog
This is an image of a wedding, a timeless tradition that transcends cultural boundaries. This isn't just any wedding though, this is the first Kopimist wedding. Kopimism is a new religion that is based around the belief that sharing is a sacred act. Their sacred symbols are CRTL-C and CRTL-V, the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste. You might be thinking that this is a joke, but they were recognized as an official religion in Sweden earlier this year.
Kopimism was born out of an emergent global culture based around the value of sharing ideas. People who identify with this culture often believe that sharing is beneficial because copying and remixing content allows innovation to happen faster and it can create a stronger sense of community. Not everyone in the world prescribes to this belief. Advocates on the opposing side argue that protecting ideas, not freely sharing them, increases innovation because there is a financial incentive for people to be more creative. They also argue that it is only fair for an artist to have control over their work, to control how it gets used, and assure they’ll be paid. Both sides of this argument put forward valid points, and, more importantly, both sides are willing to fight for their values and their rights. These are the copyright wars.
The Copyright Wars
It is a war of economic interest, a war over the philosophy of what motivates people and how novelty is discovered. The battlefield is not in the desert or the jungle, but in the courtroom, in our schools, and at our kitchen table. Those on the pro-sharing side have been labeled as pirates and heretics, but when we see a religion grow up around a set of ethics, this suggests that there is something more here. This is a war over cultural identity and freedom of information.
The copyright wars have been going on for much longer than the current digital battles. For example, during the Dark Ages, books, works of art and cultural artifacts were stored in privately owned libraries that only the top tiers of society had access to. In France however, after the French Revolution, most of these privately held books were liberated by pro-sharing citizens, placed in what were known as dépots littéraires, and made publicly available. It was also decided that the Louvre, previously a private collection of royal treasures, was to be opened as a public museum to display the nation's treasures. These radical changes in information accessibility were once unthinkable acts, but pubic libraries and museums are now seen as symbols of national pride.
The spread of the internet has escalated and accelerated the copyright wars. Remember Napster? Napster was a file sharing service where anyone with an internet connection could upload, download and share their music for free. Perfect copies of entire albums could be made at virtually no cost to any party involved, except for the record labels who claimed that they were losing billions and sued to shut Napster down. Other file sharing sites began to pop up, such as Limewire, The Pirate Bay, Demonoid, Megaupload, and countless others. Again, media companies responded by attempting to lock content with Digital Rights Management, which was easily cracked through clever hacks. The pro-sharing side responded by creating their own original content and licensing it as Creative Commons.
Media companies responded by generously funding lobbyists and promoting bills such as ACTA, SOPA, and PIPA — different names and forms, but all resulting in file sharing becoming even more illegal and increased threats against the continued existence of any site that hosts shared content. Individual file sharing sits had been successfully shut down before, but this time broad, sweeping laws would threaten all file sharing sites.
As the laws were being discussed at the higher levels of government in Europe and North America, resistance began to grow online and in the streets. Quinn Norton, keynote at our most recent Technology Horizons conference, said, "No one expected this to happen, no one expected 50,000 teenagers to go out and protest intellectual property law in January (2012), but here it is." In the midst of this icy winter, police responded to the demonstrations by arresting, fining and jailing protestors. Even so, ACTA, SOPA, and PIPA were all stopped.About six years ago, before the ACTA protests and after NAPSTER, the Pirate Party was formed. It started off in Sweden as a small group of pro-sharing, anti-copyright activists. As of 2012, the Pirate Party has 45 state parliament seats in Germany, one mayor in Switzerland and one in Iceland. They received 7.1% of the votes for European parliament and as of today, the Pirate Party is the fastest growing political movement in modern history.
Kopimism is a new institution that elevates the act of copying from an expression of cultural identity to a sacred act. File sharing, protests, and even political parties are certainly acts of expression, but religion is different. For many people, their religion serves as a moral foundation and a guiding principal for daily life. A religion’s shared values can strengthen bonds within a community, and, for those outside the community, understanding the code of the religion can offer a glimpse inside.
Kopimism will sound like a joke to many people, or they’ll view it as a religious loophole to avert copyright law. And certainty for some ‘adherents’ this will be their motivation for joining. But there are many more people for whom this code of practices will be a canon of fundamental beliefs. Religion is too big of a move for a community to adopt just to swap a few more movies.
The copyright wars continue to rage on. Battles are mostly waged on the internet, but occasionally they spill out onto the streets. From what we have seen so far, every time pro-copyright interests attempt to strengthen their hold on intellectual property, the public reacts. These reactions are becoming increasingly sophisticated in technique and popular support for serious pro-sharing groups, such as the Pirate Party, is growing rapidly.
As we see this movement grow and evolve one thing is becoming clear, a new generation is emerging in which the individuals value sharing and collaborative creation over profit. These values have brought this generation closer together. It is my hope that the legal system will bend to accommodate this new culture so that we can avoid breaking an entire movement.