How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties

Chapter 9: Is Democracy Piracy?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In April, 2012, a young couple got married in Belgrade, Serbia. The wedding video[1] shows the bride and groom smiling nervously as they stand on a dais in fancy clothes, while the crowd around them titters and cheers and the romantic strains of an aria waft through the air. After the groom lifts the bride’s veil, they exchange heartfelt vows and then kiss. The room erupts with applause.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Despite these traditional elements, this was no ordinary wedding. For one thing, the young couple were dressed in a postmodern mélange of styles: The groom offset his brocaded coat, leggings and neck ruff by dying his short hair maraschino cherry red, while the bride wore a floor-length dress that was white on the left and black on the right, with black breast cones and a single elbow-length black silk glove on her right arm. Far more striking was the officiant to their right: in addition to his conservative black cassock, augmented by a grey and gold stole, he wore a Guy Fawkes mask, and sported a laptop emblazoned with stickers (see Figure 11). The laptop was evidently the source of the officiant’s “voice,” a computer-generated monotone that asked each party to take the other as a “noble peer” and to “share your love, your knowledge, and your feelings . . . as long as the information exists.”

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0
Figure 11: The world’s first Kopimist wedding. Belgrade, Serbia, April, 2012.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 These vows had never been spoken before, because this was the first marriage ever conducted in the Church of Kopimism, a new religion founded in 2010 by a 19-year-old philosophy student named Isak Gerson. The religion is based on the principals that copying, disseminating and reconfiguring information are not only ethically right, but are in themselves “sacred” acts of devotion. Kopimist philosophy also holds that “the internet is holy” and that “code is law”[2] (a phrase copied from legal scholar Lawrence Lessig[3]).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 When Kopimists first filed to be recognized as an official religion in Gerson’s native country of Sweden, some grumbled that they were simply a bunch of pirates cleverly using religious protection to shield them from liability for P2P. Yet Sweden officially recognized Kopimism in January of 2012, and today the religion boasts thousands of members around the world, with chapters in over 20 countries. Of course, file sharing is an important part of their belief system and the church openly maintains that “Copyright Religion is our absolute opposite,” so there can be little question that their resistance to “persecution” at the hands of the piracy crusade “oppressors”[4] is both a dogmatic and a practical concern.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 While treating the act of copying information as a matter of religious doctrine might seem at first glance to be exactly the kind of highfalutin nonsense most people would expect from a 19-year-old Swedish philosophy major, students of religious history will recognize in Kopimism echoes of many other doctrines, such as early Christianity. For instance, St. Irenaeus, a 2nd Century theologian, would append to his texts a formula dictating the terms on which they should be copied:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 You who will transcribe this book, I charge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and of His glorious Second Coming, in which He will come to judge the living and dead, compare what you have copied against the original and correct it carefully. Furthermore, transcribe this adjuration and place it in the copy.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This protocol was in turn copied by St. Jerome 200 years later in his work De viris illustribus, and, based on that work, the formula continued to be used by monks well into the Middle Ages, whenever they transcribed holy scriptures.[5] In fact, it was only with the introduction of moveable type and the publication of the Gutenberg Bible that the act of copying began to lose its sacred valence in the Christian world. As I discussed in Chapter 1, this innovation was also a precursor to, and a precondition of, the development of copyright. Thus, we can understand Kopimism not as the spiritualization of something that began as a commercial and industrial process, but rather the re-spiritualization of a process following a long intermediary period of industrial capitalism.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 I am not suggesting that the spirit of copying is identical in Irenaeus and Kopimism; while the former was principally concerned with maintaining copy fidelity, better to transmit the “word of God,” the latter is more concerned with copying for its own sake, and privileges interpretation over fidelity (in the words of the Kopimist Constitution, “Copymixing is a sacred kind of copying, moreso than the perfect, digital copying, because it expands and enhances the existing wealth of information”). Yet these distinctions are not as great as they may seem. Monastic Christianity, copyright, and Kopimism can each be understood as value systems that govern socioepistemological processes (in lay terms, the social establishment of “truth”) during eras of informatic scarcity, mechanical reproduction, and digital dematerialization, respectively. Seen through this lens, a doctrine like Kopimism can be understood as a serious attempt to reconcile the regulatory demands of the 20th Century’s copyright regime with the cultural ramifications of today’s global digital information infrastructure. Put another way, while the piracy crusade sacrifices technological innovation to preserve industrial capitalism, Kopimism sacrifices industrial capitalism to preserve technological innovation. Thus, its theologians are correct: the two dogmas are, in fact, “absolute opposites.”

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Though Kopimism appears to be growing in popularity and spreading rapidly around the globe, it is still a marginalized belief system that, at the time of writing, has only been recognized as a legitimate religion in a single nation. Far more prevalent, and politically impactful, is another recent Swedish invention: the Pirate Party. This movement, which was established in 2006 in direct response to the international antipiracy agenda, rapidly developed a concrete political platform and a coordinating non-governmental organization (Pirate Parties International, established in 2010[6]), and currently has affiliate parties in 66 nations (including established parties in ten US states). Pirate Party candidates have won elections in several countries, including seats on the European parliament and the German parliament. By early 2012, the Pirate Party had become the “fastest-growing political group in Europe.”[7]

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 In its own, less spectacular way, the rise of the Pirate Party is every bit as incredible as the emergence of Kopimism. How can it be that a group widely perceived as a “fringe single-issue party,”[8] by its own accounts hobbled by a “stupid name,”[9] and openly derided as “criminal at its core” by a prominent European antipiracy group,[10] has become a potent political force on a global scale in the matter of a few short years? Legal scholar Jessica Litman attributes the party’s appeal to the fact that “there are millions of ordinary people whose use of YouTube and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks gives them a direct, personal stake in the copyright law,”[11] in contrast to historical periods in which the average media consumer had little or no cause to think about, let alone critique, IP policy. To the Pirate Parties themselves, the answer is even broader, and has less to do with copyright per se than it does with giving people a stake in the political process. As German Pirate Party operative Matthias Schrade told the BBC after some recent electoral successes, “We offer what people want. People are really angry at all the other parties because they don’t do what politicians should do. We offer transparency, we offer participation. We offer basic democracy.”[12]

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 As I will argue in the next section, these two analyses are hardly irreconcilable. The tensions at the heart of the piracy crusade are exactly the same as those at the root of the democratic process: How can we arrive at, and enforce, a definition of “freedom” that negotiates between the conflicting needs of several stakeholders? How can we express ourselves, organize our societies and live our lives without being constrained by those more powerful than us? And, by the same token, how can we create and sustain an environment in which innovation and commerce thrive, thus broadening our personal and collective horizons and improving the quality of our lives? For a growing number of people around the world, the answer to these questions are looking less and less like copyright and intellectual property –at least, as we currently understand them.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 [1] The wedding video is available on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYAiZ-L4gXg

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 [2] Kopimist Constitution. Available at: http://www.kopimistsamfundet.org/main/kopimist-constitution

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 [3] Lessig, L. (2006). Code version 2.0. New York: Basic Books.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 [4] Welcome to the missionary church of kopimism. Available at: http://kopimistsamfundet.se/english/

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 [5] No author. (n.d.). A brief history of scriptoria and the evolution of the book. The Monastery of Christ in the Desert Website. Available at: http://christdesert.org/Seeking_God/Scriptoria/index.html

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 [6] The PPI website is available at: http://www.pp-international.net/

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [7] no author. (2012). Can pirates shake up European politics? Al Jazeera, 4/9/12. Available at: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/can-pirates-shake-european-politics-0022165

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [8] Taylor, A. (2012). German Pirate Party: We’re growing as fast as the Nazis did. Business Insider International, 4/23/2012. Available at: http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-04-23/news/31384735_1_green-party-nazis-parliamentary-floor-leader

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 [9] Greater London Pirate Party Agenda, 11/29/2009. Available at: http://www.pirateparty.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=28&p=8699

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 [10] Moya, J. (2009). Euro anti-piracy group calls Pirate Party message “criminal.” ZeroPaid, 7/24/2009. Available at: http://www.zeropaid.com/news/86705/euro-anti-piracy-group-calls-pirate-party-message-criminal/

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 [11] Litman, J. (2010). Real copyright reform. Iowa Law Review, 96(1): 1-56.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 [12] Evans, S. (2012). Germany’s Pirate Party riding high. BBC News, 5/11/2012. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18017064

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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/piracycrusade/chapter-9-is-democracy-piracy/