File-Sharers Start Religion to Exploit Legal Loophole

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Huffington Post columnist David Woodall wonders what will happen if Kopimism catches on in Britain

After jumping through a lot of legal and bureaucratic hoops, a church whose central belief is the right to file-share has been formally recognised by the Swedish government. The establishment of the Swedish Missionary Church of Kopimism by 19-year-old philosophy student Isak Gerson means its members can now claim ‘freedom of religious expression’ whenever they are accused of file sharing.

Now, I am not here to further any debate on whether their religion is this or that, or what they believe is right or wrong – the Kopists contend that information is holy and the copying of it is a sacrament, with CTRL+C and CTRL+V (keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste) awarded sacred symbol status. But I ask you, what would the ramifications be if such a group were to set up stall in London? If one day you woke up, and could claim that sharing and copying the newest Mission Impossible film online was protected by freedom of religious expression, or downloading and remixing and playing the newest number one single was permitted without having to part with any money in purchase or royalties.

OK, I’m sure a UK branch of the Church of Kopimism would be unlikely to make file sharing legal – a film like Mission Impossible 3 (or is it 4?) would still be protected by a number of copyright laws – but if large numbers of people signed up to the religion, and shared as much as they liked, the law might become unworkable.

Does religion give complete immunity from the law? No. As we’ve seen, there’s a fine line between freedom of speech and, for example, inciting racial hatred. But where the speech in question involved, say, a preacher in a church reading out a book copied from an online source, or showing clips of a pirated film or music, in what amounted to a sacred ceremony, would that be tolerated?

Perhaps a religion that would appear to be based on an illegal principle, created to cynically exploit a legal loophole, wouldn’t be allowed to be set up in the UK in the first place. And even if it was, it might, like the religion of Jedi Knight that gained full legal recognition following the 2001 census, fail to be taken seriously. But surely this development in Sweden will give other people across the continent who are anti big-business, and pro-getting stuff for free online, pause for thought.

David Woodall is currently studying the Graduate Diploma in Law. He writes the Diary of a GDL Student column for the Huffington Post UK.