March 20, 2002

Patron Saint of Open Source

In honor of St. Columba of Ireland, Patron Saint of the Open-Source Movement:

In honor of Saint Patrick's Day, here's a reminder that one of Ireland's
other patron saints, Saint Columba, may have pioneered the anti-copyright
movement way back in the sixth century (A.D. 555, to be exact):

St. Columba had borrowed from the monk a fine manuscript of the
Gospels, and Columba had made a copy of the borrowed book, before returning
it. The monk claimed the copy also as his; the saint disputed this. His
argument in defence reads not unlike the defence made by modern infringers
of copyright: "I confess that the book in question was copied from the
manuscript of Finnen. But it was with my own industry and toil and burning
of the midnight oil. And it was copied with such care that Finnen's
manuscript is in no way injured by the act of copying. Moreover, my object
was to preserve more surely the best parts of the book and employ them for
the greater glory of God. Hence I do not admit that I have done any injury
to Finnen; nor am liable for restitution, nor am at fault in any way." But
Dermot, the judge, as manuscripts were then new in Ireland, had no exact
precedent, and he cast about for the nearest analogy. He found the Brehon
maxim, "With every cow goes its calf", "Le cach boin a boinin"; and so his
judgment was in favor of the monk, because "Le cach lebar a lebran", "With
every book goes the young of the book". (But the saint, it is recorded, was
very angry at this judgment, invoked the power of a rival chieftain against
Dermot, and thrashed him well in battle.) [Wigmore, John H., _A Panorama of
the World's Legal Systems_, Washington DC, 1936, p. 677]

Posted by DeLong at March 20, 2002 09:59 PM | TrackBack

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