Copyright as a Fundamentalist Religion

An advantage of doing a lot of original research on copyright, and the history of copyright in particular, is that you start seeing very strong parallels to previous power struggles in society. I frequently say in my keynotes that there is nothing new under the sun.

What is happening now with the copyright industry vs. the people is practically identical to what happened when the printing press was introduced and the Catholic Church declared war on the self-educated people. In both cases, it is not really about religion or law, but about the very simple principle that people are people and that powerful people will use their power to keep their power.

What is interesting here, that a senior individual in the Swedish business pointed out to me, is that copyright defenders are acting like religious fundamentalists. They aren’t religious in the actual sense of the word, of course. But they are acting and reacting as if they were religious about copyright, as if it was something that wasn’t allowed to be questioned. Enrique Dans observes that they are attacking not just copyright reformists, but anybody who even questions copyright, with an emotional and aggressive fervor: calling the reformists pirates, thieves, freetards et cetera. In another time and place, heretics would have been the word of choice.

There are a couple of observations to be made from this.

First, people are people and will be people; there’s nothing new under the sun. All of this has happened before and will happen again.

Second, we are seeing emotional reactions that are identical to that of the Catholic Church when the printing press arrived. Since copyright is religious to these people, there is no middle ground and will never be a middle ground — the concept is as unrealistic as a middle ground between the Quran and the Bible. Again, I want to emphasize that it is not a religion per se, but that the people are reacting as though they were defending their religion. They are deeply, deeply uncomfortable by things being questioned that cannot and must not be questioned, and are reacting by emotional distress and full-on attack.

Third, and most interesting: once this has been identified, we can follow the script for how the Catholic Church was defeated by knowledge 500 years ago, and win again against the religion of these modern no-knowledge-proliferation treaties.

One needs to remember that the Catholic Church had instituted excommunication (exile) as penalty for unauthorized reading. They had persuaded France to enact the death penalty for using a printer to produce books. They were really tenacious about preventing the spread of knowledge. In the end, that was also what undid their stranglehold on the populace: that everybody learned how to read, and could question their word for themselves.

So the fight 500 years ago was one against knowledge, and it was won by spreading knowledge.

That’s exactly how we need to win today.

We need to teach the whole world how to share culture. Everybody needs to experience what the copyright industry is trying to kill. We need to connect Aunt Marge’s television set to a one-terabyte USB drive of hi-def movies with a media player, just like Protestants won by teaching people to read. Just like you can’t unexperience what it’s like to read, you can’t unexperience what it’s like to have the world’s culture and knowledge at your fingertips. We need to help everybody around us understand that sharing is caring, and that copyright is the opposite.

We need to document the transgressions of the copyright industry. Much sympathy was gained for the Protestant causes as the cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition and Bloody Mary were exposed to the public. There is certainly no shortage of horrendous acts on behalf of the copyright industry. We need to explain them in laymen’s terms.

We need to stand by one another and defend one another for what we know is just, fair, friendly and humane against what isn’t.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Falkvinge, Eesti Piraadipartei, Ann Markström, David Olandersson, rubin marc and others. rubin marc said: RT @Falkvinge: on #infopolicy: Copyright as a Fundamentalist Religion […]

  2. Pia

    “copyright defenders are acting like religious fundamentalists. ”

    And you aren’t acting like a religios fundamentalist? Your whole life is built around breaking copyrigt laws. You have the right and ability to publish anything you want – but noooooo – you build your career around your want to downloand material that people wants to get payed for. 0.6%.

    0.6%. That should tell you something.

    1. kontroll

      Did you ever stop to consider the absolute lunacy of the current copyright laws, where works are copyrighted decades AFTER the author has DIED?
      What could this author possibly do with that?
      That’s just one of many, many examples of a system that is so screwed up, that just exists to control the masses.

      Does this sound at all familiar?

    2. anon

      you are so out there pp dose not say that they want to brake copyright laws they want reform. copyright as it is today is not viable when every one has an copying machine at home. think about it. if every Swedish person had a distiller at home the politicians could never impose the Swedish alcohol monopoly. because they would make everyone a criminal almost every Swedish person has a Computer at home thus everyone has a machine that can copy and spread it. meaning that copyright needs to be revised to fit with how it is today and not for 200 years ago.

    3. pyc

      There’s serious lack of reality check with you. Rick is one of the most sane guys out there and many people support his views. Certanly more than views of copyright supporters. Check yourself.

  3. M. Fioretti

    Just a couple of notes:

    You say “copyright defenders are acting like religious fundamentalists”. It would be more exact to say “acritical defenders of the CURRENT copyright regime are acting like religious fondamentalists”. There are lots of people, from those in the CC movement down to me and others, who think a reformed and very time-reduced copyright is good.

    Secondly, thanks for pointing out (though I wonder if all readers will realize it) that the similarities are with Catholic Church reaction to the press 5 centuries ago. Not these days. On these particular topics, the current Catholic position is more relaxed and varied. See for examples the links in

    1. Bovski

      The Catholic Church aren’t fully embracing the the internet or all the books out of copyright in the Vatican library would have been scanned and put on view for the world to see.

  4. Enrique Dans

    Thanks for the link, Rick, I didn’t know you could read Spanish 🙂 And you are absolutely right: the defense follows all the patterns of a fundamentalistic plot. The copyright intermediaries see their very existence seriously threatened, they take it as a “life or death” issue, and according to their mentality, all the means are justified to reach the ends.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Enrique! Surprised and happy to see you here! I know enough Spanish to make do, like, I can order beer and hamburgers with extra bacon. Everything a grown man needs.

      You’re right in your extension that it’s life or death for the parasitic middlemen if they can’t lock their market into legislation, and I think they are aware of that on some level.

      Good luck tomorrow with the vote on Ley Sinde. Oh, and thanks for your link too. 🙂


  5. Anatoly

    There is one more noteworthy analogy between pro-copyright social structures and church. It is believers, people. It is them who church relied upon and it is them, law obedient brain washed pro-copyright believers who really support copyright monster.

    This point is the most striking one for me: “striving artists” support copyright. The great majority of musicians, painters, poets, writers, etc. barely make pennies out of their art, and they stand up for “their rights” whenever you question these. Virtually everyone who I talked to for years would support idea of art as realm of ultimate freedom, but would never come along with me to conclusion that copyright is in radical contradiction to this idea.

    People would agree that you can sell your work to make money (not rights, but work), but they don’t come along to conclusion that salable rights are not necessary then.

    People would agree that a law is to implement justice, that law cannot be a compromise in itself, which is the case with copyright, but they don’t come along to conclusion that copyright low contradicts very idea of law and justice.
    And so forth.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      I think you’re right that the perception of this is a problem, but on the other hand, I think it’s not the case with younger artists. Whenever the Lobby pushed 25 artists forward to sign an article, we could always counter with 100 artists of the next generation.

      Young artists are fed up with old artists pretending to care for them, when the young artists are already in the next world.

  6. Enrique Dans

    I’m afraid the “ley Sinde” is pretty much a done deal 🙁 The good news is that it will be completely useless: most pages will either resist (they’ve been already judged and pronounced not guilty) or relocate. And most of all, it will be another practical demonstration of how useless it can be to try to fight technology with laws that cannot be enforced at all because they belong to a different century. If anything, the “ley Sinde” has managed to get every Spanish citizen angry and willing to fight against the contents industry… nice outcome for an industry that (in theory) tries to sell their stuff to customers!!

  7. Molle Bingo

    copywrite laws can never stop technology

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  11. […] and move that power from the monopolists to the people. Teach everybody to share culture, and the people will win against the constrainers of liberties, just as happened at the start of this series, when people […]

  12. […] Nie chodzi oczywiście o te cechy, które normalnie przypisujemy religii, po prostu przejawiają podobne wzorce zachowania jak fanatycy religijni: są wrodzy za każdym razem, kiedy ich przekonania podlegają analizie i zadawane są im […]

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