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Sharing in spirit: Kopimism and the digital Eucharist

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Kopimism, a new religion officially recognized by Sweden in 2012, is based on the principles that copying, disseminating and reconfiguring information are not only ethically right, but also are in themselves ‘sacred’ acts of devotion. Kopimist philosophy also holds that ‘the internet is holy’ and that ‘code is law’ (a phrase copied from legal scholar Lawrence Lessig). Kopimism has already raised some interesting questions and debates in both legal and religious circles. Some grumble that the Kopimists are a bunch of ‘pirates’ using religious protection to shield them from copyright liability. Others suggest that the religion is little more than a sophomoric rhetorical exercise, the predictable product of a precocious young philosopher. In this article, I suggest that, if we take Kopimist doctrine at its word, we can better understand it as the crystallization of an emerging value system centred around the proliferation of digital, networked information. Like copyright, and monastic Christianity before it, Kopimism stakes out a socioepistemological vantage point, contrasting the regulatory demands of the twentieth-century copyright regime with today's globalized digital culture. Based on interviews with Kopimist officials and worshippers, as well as a critical reading of the religion's ‘constitution’ and other doctrinal texts, I delineate many of the ethical boundaries surrounding this new belief system, and examine it in contrast to some previous religious and legal systems, evaluating its points of continuity and rupture to illuminate the unique challenges to ethics and morality in an era of information abundance and continuing material and educational inequity.
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Keywords: Kopimism; copyright; digital culture; media ethics; religion; sharing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rutgers University SC&I, 4 Huntington St., New Brunswick, NJ, 08901, USA

Publication date: April 2, 2016

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