Medieval Copy Protection: I Put A Curse On You

from the probably-more-effective dept

Slashdot points us to this wonderful blog post on the Got Medieval blog about how monks and scribes in the middle ages "copy protected" their books with "book curses" inscribed within the book.

I almost wonder if those were more effective than today's DRM attempts.

The blog has a nice image of one such curse, but here are a couple that I find amusing:
Should anyone by craft of any device whatever abstract this book from this place may his soul suffer, in retribution for what he has done, and may his name be erased from the book of the living and not recorded among the Blessed.
--attributed to a 16th-century French missal belonging to a man named Robert

Thys boke is one
And Godes kors ys anoder;
They take the ton,
God gefe them the toder.

[This book is one (thing),
And God's curse is another;
They that take the one,
God gives them the other.]
--found in various Middle English books.
Perhaps the most clever one though, is described as follows:
But far and away my favorite curse is found in a collection of English court transcripts made by William Easingwold around 1491. It takes the form of a clever Latin code. If you read the top two lines together it says "May he who wrote this book procure the joys of life supernal", but the bottom two together produce "May he who steals this book endure the pangs of death infernal" (Drogin's translation). I don't have an image of the manuscript, but this is a close approximation:
All of this reminds me of an even older story of books and attempts to stop copying, which we wrote about last year, concerning Saint Columba -- also known as Colmcille or Colum Cille -- who in the 6th century, decided to copy some religious books in an attempt to "share" the faith with others. He did so with a Latin translation of the Bible and it created quite the mess, with a debate over the legality of copying a book, and whether or not it counted as "property." You see, these arguments aren't particularly new...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    darryl, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:18am

    And the Bible.

    The final passage of the bible, does the same thing, in NO uncertain terms, what will happen to you if you change the text.. but you know that right :)

    And again,, SO ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:25am

    Stealing the actual book - not copying it.

    Tose curses are directed at people stealing the actual physical copy. It i smost likely the "he who wrote the book" actually means "he who created THIS COPY" in the context.

    As for the St Columba story I think we have had this argument before - and as far as I remember the outcome of my researches of the original sources was that the "copyright" interpretation of the tales is a later invention - orignallly based on efforts of the owners of an early manuscript to establish its link to St Columba and later embellished (possibly more than once) in order to attempt to score points in early debates about copyright.

    The original duispute - and battle were over the death of a child that St Columba had sworn to protect.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Luiz, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:35am

      Re: Stealing the actual book - not copying it.

      The copyright interpretation is indeed a later invention, since the whole copyright concept s a later invention. Even the Statute of Anne is from early 18th century, isn't it?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      vivaelamor (profile), Sep 8th, 2010 @ 2:19pm

      Re: Stealing the actual book - not copying it.

      "As for the St Columba story I think we have had this argument before - and as far as I remember the outcome of my researches of the original sources was that the "copyright" interpretation of the tales is a later invention - orignallly based on efforts of the owners of an early manuscript to establish its link to St Columba and later embellished (possibly more than once) in order to attempt to score points in early debates about copyright."

      I remember a case where a judge had managed to wrongly attribute an apparent quote supporting copyright to the saint when the quote in fact appeared to be from the guy prosecuting the saint. It would not surprise me if the whole thing had already been distorted to further an agenda.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Luiz, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:32am

    Just note that - as the blog's author pointed in a later post - those are not really "copy protection", but "copists' protection (against theft)". But, on the other hand, people who put today's copy protections on content tend not to see any difference between unauthorized copy and theft, so the analogy is fine for me. ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    darryl, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:40am

    So historically most content creators want some IP protection.

    So even in the Medieval times, authors, and creators of content were seeking ways and methods of protecting their works..

    So there was a need for copyright and content protection throught history.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Richard (profile), Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:51am

      Re: So historically most content creators want some IP protection.

      So even in the Medieval times, authors, and creators of content were seeking ways and methods of protecting their works..

      Nope - please read my comment above.

      Those curses were written by copyists - not authors - trying to protect the physical copy from being stolen.

      Btw I prefer the Jennings version, where responsibilty for the loss is transferred to the book itself:

      "If this book should dare to roam, box its ears and send it home

      to..."

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:54am

      Re: So historically most content creators want some IP protection.

      "So even in the Medieval times, authors, and creators of content were seeking ways and methods of protecting their works..

      So there was a need for copyright and content protection throught history."

      Facepalm! Wow...what awesome sophistry powers you have, my friend. Let's try another couple of examples based on your logical principle:

      1. For time eternal, carnivores (including humans) have always wanted to kill and eat whatever other living creature they could find. So there was a need to legalize the killing and eating of anything and everything throughout history.

      2. For time eternal, men have always wanted to be able to have sex and get copious amounts of oral sex performed on them whenever and wherever they want. So there was a need for women to be forced to perform these actions throughout history.

      3. For time eternal, people have wanted to freely share things. So there was a need for free sharing throughout history.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Luiz, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 7:04am

      Re: So historically most content creators want some IP protection.

      Ehrm...no?

      Those are no copy protection methods. And I agree that there is a "need for copyright and content protection" since some centuries ago, but before the invention of the press (and the invention of professional editors) no one seemed to have any need for such.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 7:20am

      Re: So historically most content creators want some IP protection.

      Your inability to read never ceases to amaze. Thank you.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 7:29am

      Re: So historically most content creators want some IP protection.

      Is it wrong that when I first read this, I thought it was sarcasm?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      R. Miles (profile), Sep 8th, 2010 @ 8:47am

      Re: So historically most content creators want some IP protection.

      So there was a need for copyright and content protection throught history.

      This is why you should let your brother Larry do all the speaking for you.

      Firstly: need?

      Secondly: content protection?

      The warnings were about the physical removal of the books, not that someone would come in with quill (bone?) and parchment (animal skin?) and copy the pages.

      Thirdly: the "protection" still didn't work. Most books have been "stolen" from their rightful home.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 7:26am

    Medieval sumptuary laws
    Serfdom

    And other things always ended badly.

    Copyright is just another form of control that will fail.

    "However, the main call of the peasant rebels was for the abolition of serfdom. This was because, since the middle of the century, their lords had prevented them from making the most of the changing economic conditions. Visitations of the plague since 1348/9 had reduced the population by between a third and a half. As a result, labour became more scarce, wages rose and the economy began to suit the peasant more than it suited the landowner. However, the landowners of Parliament legislated to keep wages low and to restrict the free movement of serfs. Locally, landowners in their capacity as manorial lords also tried to tighten the feudal dues that serfs were obliged to carry out for them. Needless to say, the peasantry resented both these measures and there were local revolts both in the decade before and after 1381. Hence, the rebels attacked symbols of lordship and lordly authority, such as manors and manorial records."


    http://www.britannia.com/history/articles/peasantsrevolt.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    bob, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 8:36am

    I Bet

    That Gutenberg chap really got in hot water making exact copies of the bible back in 1452.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Coward (Anon), Sep 8th, 2010 @ 4:43pm

    Modern copyright curses

    Back in the hey-day of Usenet (for you kids, Usenet was the thing that existed before the web), there was a prolific poster who went by the name of RICHH. While not all of his posts dealt with sex, most did and had the following warning prepended to them:

    Disclaimer: The following story contains naughty bits. If you are under 18, or if this has somehow wandered onto the K12 net, STOP READING NOW. Do not, I repeat, do not email it to all your friends. And for God's sake do not make a printout of it and distribute copies all over your school. I mean sure, it'll be cool and all, and you'll probably have lots of new friends, and you'll probably even get lots of dates which will lead to numerous nights of hot, sticky backseat passion, but like, you could get in big trouble. Cause I know a kid who did it and sure, it was cool for awhile, but all the new friends he made weren't like *real* friends. Plus like, it's all fully and legally copyrighted and if you think you're so tough now, let's see how you feel after a few months in the joint sharing a cell with a disgruntled former Kinko's employee with something to prove. Copyright prison--you wouldn't last a day.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Sep 8th, 2010 @ 6:00pm

    Stealing, Not Copy Protection

    Ironic that Mike, of all people, should make a mistake like that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), Sep 8th, 2010 @ 8:25pm

    The book I write will come with DRM in the form of an ink eraser, and a notice that if you copied it you must use the eraser and delete the entire contents.

    Of course, only the legal copy will have the eraser with it, so... um...

    I'm going to put a leprechaun in the book and have him shoot spitballs at your eyes. Yeah, I'm bricking your eyes, biatch!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Junkyard, Sep 9th, 2010 @ 12:45am

    Attack of the mutant camels

    Any one remember the old C64 game attack of the mutant camels? The load screen had a curse for pirates that went something along the lines of: "may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Eternally Damned, Sep 9th, 2010 @ 7:44am

    I'm free!

    Wow. Since I'm going to hell for borrowing a book and forgetting to return it, I suppose I can drink and curse and fornicate all I want. Freedom!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Alessar (profile), Sep 9th, 2010 @ 12:07pm

    Not copy protection!

    These are not anti-copy statements, these are theft deterrents.

    "Should anyone by craft of any device whatever abstract this book from this place..."

    In context, abstract is a verb; it means 'take away' not "a short, precise summary."

    In other words, these are prohibitions from stealing books from libraries. I thought modern librarians were people I didn't want to mess with. Who knew their medieval counterparts would damn people to hell for stealing tomes?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    anon, Sep 12th, 2010 @ 6:12pm

    Take a history lesson

    Not about copyright at all. It's about theft. Good grief. Talk about an inability to understand any other time in history but your own. What are you, 12?!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Platonic (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 7:02am

    Don't say you were not forewarned.

    Dismissing the copy protection warning is like signing your personal death penalty, pleading the guilt, essentially being adrift to the curse itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This