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. identicon
    Coward (Anon), 8 Sep 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.


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