Copyright law has been fiercely contested legislation across the world for a long time and recently intensified because of the internet. The internet has allowed information to be copied and distributed at a rapid pace unlike any other time in known history. To preserve the profits and ownership of that information, copyright laws were developed.
Reaching farther back in history, religion has also been hotly contested. From the Crusades of the 12th century to modern history with developed countries providing a freedom of religion to its citizens, religion has been a focal point of debate. This raises the key question of this Digest article; what happens when religion and copyright intersect?
On January 5th, 2012, Kopimism was recognized as a legitimate religion by the Swedish Government. Founded by a 19-year-old philosophy student, Isak Gerson leads a congregation of people who view information and the sharing of that information as a sacred virtue. Pronounced (copy-me-ism), an English constitution was published by the First United Church of Kopimism, US. (http://kopimistsamfundet.us/kopimist-constitution-english/) To summarize, the constitution holds the following values as religious actions and being ethically correct:
- Copying of information
- Dissemination of information
- “Copymixing” which is considered a sacred form of copying and including additional information
- The internet is holy
- Copying and disseminating another individual is seen as an act of respect
- Computer code is law
Comical thoughts aside, this has become an authentic, recognized religion that has been gaining momentum throughout the world. Countries ranging from Canada and the U.S. to its originator Sweden and other European countries have their own constitutions and more are being added as the constitution is translated.
Looking through existing U.S. Supreme Court religious rulings, nothing stands out as addressing something of this nature. Unfortunately, until the time comes when copyright law enters into the Supreme Court, speculation and opinion is all that can be used to deduce a potential response to the infringement of copyright law based on religious practices.
From the National Library of Virginia, the following court cases have been pulled as pertaining to religious ruling by the Supreme Court (http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/court/). Out of the numerous cases ruled upon, all that were researched upheld religious freedoms as the highest ideal in all situations from mundane (Larson v. Valente regarding the ownership of a church building during a schism dispute within the religion) to the more extreme cases (R.A. v. City of St. Paul regarding ritualistic animal sacrifices as a religious practice). This lends itself to believe that if the Supreme Court was to rule on copyright laws being violated by Kopimism, that the freedom to copy and disseminate electronic information by the members of that religion will be upheld. To further reinforce this opinion, a recent court case from January 11th, 2012 was brought before the Supreme Court concerning ministerial exception. The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/opinion/the-ministerial-exception.html?_r=1) reported that Ms. Cheryl Perich was unable to sue the church-run school she worked at based on federal workplace discrimination law because the religious freedoms granted to the church prevented such recourse.
The impact on businesses and IT asset managers should be already mitigated due to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). To summarize the act (http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf), the DMCA states that copyright violations as well as efforts to circumvent copyright protections were against the law and falls in line with the Berne Convention and WIPO Copyright Treatise. Since its inception, some exceptions have been made for educational uses, security software to test systems, etc.
The book is not closed on this case however. The DMCA has not found a website owner liable for linking to copyrighted material beyond two small cases. One involved a website owner that already had an injunction against them and violated that injunction. Another was linking to other websites that provided ways to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) devices. Other than these specialized circumstances, no other individual or website owner has been found liable. This leads to the belief that the ruling from the Supreme Court is still open and no historical precedent has been sufficiently established.
The courts seem deeply conflicted on this matter. On one hand, historical precedent has established that no religion is granted immunity from legal violations. On the other, with the Ministerial Exception case and the indirect enforcement of the DMCA, the courts have not made up their minds on the matter. One thing can be known for certain and that is that as an IT Asset Manager, information and preparation is the best tool for compliance. Protect your organization by protecting data diligently. As copyright enforcers as part of our work, it is only a matter of time before this issue appears on our doorstep.