Earlier this month, Sweden’s Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agency, the Kammarkollegiet, recognized a new religious organization, the Missionary Church of Kopimism. Kopimism – the word derives from “copy me” – is, according to the church’s website, a comprehensive philosophy of life “animated by the desire to be copied and copy.” Its spiritual leader is 20-year old philosophy student Isak Gerson. Kopimism is non-theistic, but it has “priests” and axioms of faith, including the belief that file sharing is “sacred” and the internet “holy.” Followers are called to live their lives according to Kopimist values, encapsulated in this basic creed: “From all to one and from one to all – and then back again – exchange without beginning and without end.” (Kopimism is not big on copyright laws). The fact that it is now a registered religion means that Kopimism can apply for government subsidies and permission to conduct marriage ceremonies.
Western legal systems, including the American, have had a notoriously hard time coming up with a workable definition of “religion,” one comprehensive enough to cover the variety of human religious experience but narrow enough to be meaningful. Judges have used substantive, functional, and analogical tests. I’m not sure which the Kammarkollegiet uses. Frankly, though, it’s hard for me to see how Kopimism would qualify as a religion under any of these approaches. The Kopimists themselves seem to endorse the analogical approach: although many Swedish Christians condemn Kopimism as a joke, they say, Kopimism actually resembles traditional Christianity, whose monks understood the value of copying and disseminating information. No word yet whether Kopimism’s American branch will seek a religious exemption from SOPA, the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act.