An interview with Isak Gerson, founder of the Missionary Church of Kopimism
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As usual, we see two diametrically opposed approaches to the topic; a repressive approach, usually implemented by governments, and the more open and positive one implemented by citizen and associations.
On the first front we've seen the seizure of The Pirate Bay, the proposition of restrictive laws like US' SOPA and Italy's “Fava Bill” and the closing of MegaUpload.
On the other side of the trenches we have movements like Richard Stallmans Free Software Foundation and Lawrence Lessing's CreativeCommons, trying to provide legal alternatives to the copyright system through a series of licenses having a greater flexibility and being then more suitable to the peer-to-peer era.
More recently, the defense of file-sharing as an individual freedom has taken a new, unexpected form: the religious one; it is in fact recent news that Sweden has officially granted religious state to Kopimism.
Founded by Isak Gerson, a nineteen years old philosophy student at Uppsala University, the Missionary Church of Kopimism includes the circulation of knowledge and exchange of information among its sacraments.
Mostly dealt as a simple curiosity by Italian press, the news of the birth of this new religion has spread rapidly over the Internet, making the church's website inaccessible for a couple of weeks.
Rather than speaking from hearsay or reporting someone else's news, I decided to contact Isac directly to let him advocate his quite characteristic point of view.
I'm Isak Gerson, the elected chief missionary of the Church of Kopimism. Our goals are mostly to practice our spiritual practices, our copying, together.
How many followers do you have both in Sweden and abroad? What is the organization and the hierarchy of the church? How are the sections of the Church organized abroad and what should one do to join the movement?
We have about 6000 members. We don't register nationality, so I can't tell where they live. We try to be as flat as possible, so all hierarchy is mostly formal. We have a board and a chief missionary, but that's it. We organize mostly through our IRC channel #kopimi on irc.telecomix.org. One can register on the website kopimistsamfundet.se.
According to Kopimism the circulation of knowledge is sacred and all information should be freely distributed. Furthermore "The absolute secrecy is holy in the church of kopimism". What happens if an information is also an evidence of a crime being committed? What should the Op do? Protect secrecy or inform competent authorities?
The Op have a pledge to keep secrecy, just like priests in many countries.
Kopimism being a religion, it is supposed to have specific and formal rituals. Can we consider downloading a file whatsoever as a ritual for the Missionary Church of Kopimism? If so, doesn't this create a legal conflict? I.e.: Kopimism is a legal religion in Sweden, yet one of its ritual (e.g.: downloading copyrighted material) can be prosecuted, both in Sweden and abroad. Could you please elaborate on that?
We don't care much for copyright. Very few people care about copyright these days, but we're actively opposing copyright and are engaged in ignoring it in our practices. We try to keep under the radar from the police by encrypting our communication and keep our meetings secret.
What is your role (and the role of the church you represent) inside the Swedish Piratpartiet? And which role does Pirate Bay have both inside the party and inside the church?
The church have no connections to Piratpartiet. I've got some small tasks here and there, but nothing big. We have no connections to The Pirate Bay, but we think they're really cool.
Since we are talking about the freedom of sharing information, why didn't you join CreativeCommons or Copyleft movements, rather than founding a Church?
First of all, we're not a political group, we're a religious group. I'm active in political groups too. Second, the copyleft movement is a movement built on copyright. There's nothing wrong with it. I think the copyleft movement is really important. But it's not the way I want to work. I want to abolish the copyright system as a whole. In that struggle, I want to deter from copyright as much as possible.
What is your opinion on SOPA and the recent actions against MegaUpload?
I think SOPA and the copyright industry as a whole is making it more and more clear that internet and copyright is a paradoxical pair. They can't coexist. We took part in the general internet strike against SOPA.
According to you, is anything going to change in copyright laws in the next ten years?
I don't think we should focus too much on the laws. The laws can be circumvented. What we should do is to make more people copy. Some day, the house of cards we call "copyright system" will fall.
What can I say? He surely has clear ideas, but the peremptoriness of some of his answers and the elusiveness of others could cause some concern, as well as the easiness with which he invites us to circumvent the laws. His points of view may even be understandable if we look at the problem from his unique perspective and this should make us ponder over the inherent risks of this kind of operations.
A pioneer of the Copyleft concept like Richard Stallman has been often deemed a fundamentalist for some of his Manichean positions (just think what he recently said about the death of Steve Jobs) although he has always been working inside the system, providing licenses acting as legal alternatives to traditional copyright, granting thus developers the freedom to choose how to distribute their software.
If someone like him can be called an extremist, what should we say then of people who, like Gerson, would like file-sharers to be considered religious persecuted also demanding that the exchange of a file whatsoever should happen in an almost sectarian secrecy?
Furthermore, this line of thinking basically denies authors (whether they are writers, musicians, developers etc.) the right (and thus the freedom) to choose whether to protect or not their work, almost turning them into members of an adverse religion who should be overthrown by a liberating jihad.
In conclusion, I fear turning file-sharing into a religion is likely to ridicule a way too serious problem or, even worse, to exasperate an already dangerously heated debate.
The current copyright system is clearly antiquated and unfit to manage the current content delivering technology, but it is not introducing unnecessary sacraments that things are going to change.
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