By Patrick Lannin
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden dealt a symbolic blow to the global fight against digital music and film piracy by recognizing a group that promotes file-sharing across the Internet as a religion.
One of the most wired nations in the world, Sweden has long been a battleground between those who support file-sharing and the music and film industry. The Nordic state gave birth to the world's largest file-sharing website, Pirate Bay.
Registering the Church of Kopimism is a way to avoid "persecution," said the website of the group, which was given official recognition by the Swedish state last month.
Kopimism's name is derived from the words "copy me" and as its website makes clear it strongly supports all forms of downloading and uploading files and sees copyright laws as violating freedom of information.
"We believe that information is holy," said Isak Gerson, who calls himself the "spiritual leader" of a church whose key symbols are "Ctrl C" and "Ctrl V," the keyboard short cuts for copy and paste.
"We do not think that copying is stealing or can ever be stealing," Gerson, 20, added to Reuters.
Such comments are anathema to the film and music industries, which view Sweden as a blackspot for illegal file-sharing.
Even though a Swedish court has sentenced the men behind Pirate Bay to prison and fines, the website is still freely available in Sweden and other countries.
Ludvig Werner, head of the Swedish branch of recording industry body IFPI, declined to comment on Kopimism but noted that 1.5 million people in Sweden out of a population of 9 million were active file-sharers.
"This means Sweden is one of the most active countries in Europe for file-sharing. So we still have a problem, even if the legal streaming of music has helped limit it," he said, referring to services such as Spotify.
After strong criticism from Hollywood, Sweden passed laws to make file-sharing illegal in 2009.
But Werner noted that the law, which is Sweden's application of an EU law called the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED), had been effectively suspended due to an appeal of a Swedish case which has gone all the way to the European Court of Justice.
This meant Sweden was left with a more cumbersome and time-consuming process for fighting Internet piracy, he said.
(Reporting by Patrick Lannin, editing by Paul Casciato)