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...

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  1. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 8 Sep 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.

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