Praying at the Pirate Altar: Sweden’s Newest Religion

Praying at the Pirate Altar: Sweden’s Newest Religion

File sharing remains ubiquitous despite the longstanding legal and enforcement battles the RIAA and governments around the world continue to wage (with varying degrees of effort). In fact, file-sharing is so popular that it’s almost a religion to some people– scratch that– it is actually a religion in Sweden now. They call themselves Kopimists, and their religion, Kopimism, is now recognized by the Swedish government as a bona fide faith. Even as church membership across Sweden plummets, The Kopimists now boast more than 8,000 members and show every sign of continuing to grow—having even applied to the government for the right to perform marriages and receive subsidies awarded by the state for religious organizations.

While a religion based on the idea that file sharing is sacred may seem bizarre, it is perhaps no stranger than the now years-old pirate political parties in Sweden, Germany, and other countries. Indeed, Germany’s Pirate Party won 8% of the votes in the North Rhine-Westphalia  state election in May, giving them 18 parliament seats. In light of these successes it may be unwise to dismiss Kopimism as a mere joke or attack on religion.

Serious or not, it is fitting that Kopimism was founded in Sweden, the country where the infamous file-sharing site The Pirate Bay is located. The Pirate Bay is notorious for being resilient in the face of concerted efforts to take it down. Following recent rulings by a Dutch Court and Britain’s High Court, the governments of both countries tried to block the site, but the measures put into place to block it were circumvented by The Pirate Bay within minutes.

Indeed, the numerous different strategies that various anti-piracy organizations, such as the RIAA, have attempted to combat piracy all seem to have come up short. First, they attempted to shut down the file-sharing sites and programs themselves. This led to the high-profile lawsuits like the one against the first widely popular music-sharing site, Napster, in 1999. When alternate peer-to-peer based networks appeared on the scene to replace Napster, the RIAA adopted a new strategy. In 2003 it began suing individual users for uploading copyright-infringing material as a public warning to file-sharers that there would be serious consequences for illegal file-sharing. After 5 years and over 18,000 file-sharers sued, the RIAA ended this campaign as well because it was having little effect on the widespread usage of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing networks. The RIAA’s lawsuits were so prolific that Wired Magazine reported a 50% drop in federal copyright infringement lawsuits from 2005 to 2009, and a drop of almost a third from 2008 to 2009.

If governments and other organizations fighting illegal file-sharing hope to make any progress, they may need to consider a fundamental adjustment to their strategy because right now it would be very difficult to argue that the momentum in this fight rests anywhere but with the file-sharers. They even have their own religion!

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