First Copyright Infringement – Irish War 561

First Copyright Infringement – The Irish Copyright War – The war of Irish Monks.

St. Columba (521–597), Finnian of Moville (495–589)

First Copyright Infringement - The Irish Copyright War
First Copyright Infringement – The Irish Copyright War

The first known decision of what we now call copyright infringement was made by King Diarmait mac Cerbaill of Tara. When Colm Cille, an Irish monk later known as St. Columba, visited Abbot Finnian of Moville, his old instructor and mentor, he secretly copied a psalter, or book of psalms, causing a feud. Columba was well-known as a missionary, manuscript collector, and prolific scribe who frequently copied the writings of intellectuals he met. Finnian sought the copy after learning of Columba’s deed, saying that it belonged to him as much as the original. Columba turned down the offer.

The monarch, who governed for Finnian under Brehon law, heard the debate. The aphorism “To every cow her calf, so to every book its copy” was coined by Diarmait, and the first half of it became a common Irish proverb (Le gach boin a boinn). However, the decision foreshadowed modern copyright laws and restrictions on reproducing original works. Columba was taken aback by the judgment, which he denounced as an unjust sentence and promised vengeance. He fled Tara and enlisted the help of his northern clan. In 561, they accompanied him to the Battle of Cul Dreimhne (also known as the Battle of the Book), which ousted the king and killed three thousand people. Although Columba won the struggle, his actions enraged other church members, who excommunicated him. Although the expulsion was subsequently overturned, Columba departed Ireland for Iona in Scotland, where he constructed his famed abbey and worked tirelessly to convert the Scottish Picts to Christianity.

Columba’s copy of the psalter, also known as the Cathach, or warrior or battler, is kept at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. The book’s fifty-eight leaves, which cover Psalms 31 to 106, are described by the academy as “the oldest extant Irish manuscript of the Psalter and the earliest example of Irish writing.”

SEE ALSO:

The Brehon Laws of Ireland (c. 250);

The Statute of Anne (1710);

The Berne Convention (1878);

Google Books and Fair Use (2010).

Sources:

First Copyright Infringement

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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