Thursday, November 17, 2016

Is the Copyright Craze Medieval?

Is the modern desire to shut down digital libraries by lawsuit comparable to the Medieval one of protecting the copies you made or owned?

Read first what two articles by Sarah Laskow have to say, then I'll be back in a moment:

Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, With Horrifying Book Curses
Medieval scribes protected their work by threatening death, or worse.
by Sarah Laskow November 09, 2016

Given the extreme effort that went into creating books, scribes and book owners had a real incentive to protect their work. They used the only power they had: words. At the beginning or the end of books, scribes and book owners would write dramatic curses threatening thieves with pain and suffering if they were to steal or damage these treasures.

They did not hesitate to use the worst punishments they knew—excommunication from the church and horrible, painful death. Steal a book, and you might be cleft by a demon sword, forced to sacrifice your hands, have your eyes gouged out, or end in the “fires of hell and brimstone.”

The Rise of Pirate Libraries
Shadowy digital libraries want to hold all the world's knowledge and give it away for free.
by Sarah Laskow April 21, 2016

All around the world, shadow libraries keep growing, filled with banned materials. But no actual papers trade hands: everything is digital, and the internet-accessible content is not banned for shocking content so much as that modern crime, copyright infringement.

The Medieval curses in books were not there to protect knowledge from being freely shared, but material books from being destroyed or stolen and therefore no longer consultable.

Anyone wanting access to the text, as meta-object, could ask for a copy or for the right of making one. If it cost, it was either for the sake if the effort of those producing an asked for copy, or for the sake of protecting a valuable copy from over exposure.

Knowledge as such was not secret. I have seen people comparing monasteries to secret societies, that is balderdash. Comparing Jesuit's to secret secieties is partly somewhat real, as Jesuits had to protect identities of people who could face, especially Protestant, persecution. But knowledge as such was for the asking.

Christendom thought of knowledge as collective property and of material copies as a perhaps clumsy and roundabout, but still way of protecting that.

That bishop in Germany whom Bergoglio deposed, he wanted a library of theology. If he wasn't very much into this modern craze of "you can't give away knowledge for free", he was going to share it somehow, albeit not in the form of a public library. He wasn't donating to a library already existing and run by librarians, which is fair enough, since such librarians don't really have the theological competence to realise you have to have, for instance, Controversies by St Robert Bellarmine in a Theological library. But probably he was in some fashion going to share it. That investment was certainly not Bling Bling.

But some people really seem to believe the catchword "you can't give away knowledge for free".

Wrong. Material objects can be sold, services like lessons or tutoring can be sold, but knowledge as such is for free.

A bookseller does not live by selling knowledge, he lives by selling material objects containing knowledge. Or, more properly, containing signs of a discourse expressing knowledge.

A bad bookseller does not live by selling pseudo-knowledge, he lives by selling material objects containing pseudo-knowledge. And so on.

The fact that someone can acquire same knowledge without paying and some will do so, is not an argument to sue those doing so or making it possible for "lost profits."

A material object like a book is more handy and trustworthy than any devise for reading digital texts. If a book is good, it will be bought even if content can be had online for free. Not bought as much, but the right to property does not mean a right to maximise profits at any cost.

The argument from "lost profits" is specious.

The argument objected to Elsevier is pretty good.

Comparing Elsevier to the monks is specious. Not that Sarah Laskow is doing so, but others are. Contrary to what is often claimed, learning Latin was not an esoteric privilege for clergy only.

When Latin became a literary language so Roman schoolchildren (all over the Empire, from Spain and Morocco to Syria) had sth more literary than Law of Twelve Tablets to learn Latin from, like Horace or especially Virgil, schools acquired a perfection of Latin teaching. This was kept up by city schools, later by schools run by monks in the country and by bishops in the cities. From Augustus to Charlemagne, school attendance was voluntary, a carreer option : a farmer or a farm serf was not likely to bother sending his children, unless they were going to be monks, but if he did and they behaved and he could give the monastery some for the service of lecturing (likelier with a farmer than with a farm serf) or if they were in a charitable mood (which happened), he was not sent away. And the lord who was served on many farms had either option too.

This means that Latin was not meant as an absolute barrier against outsiders. Especially as Latin, up to Charlemagne's reform of pronunciation, was basically pronoiunced in similar ways in Church and in society outside, while the ratio of "obsolete" words (which really became so in Romance languages) to "vulgar words" (not yet there in the older books, the Classics) would have varied exactly as they do vary now. There were recently critics who objected to Tolkien writing a sentence like "Helms, too, they chose", but that is how he nevertheless has been understood by hundreds and thousand of readers in English. Myself, not English, had some trouble with the word "fallow" - describing the colour of elf-cloaks - but that didn't strike me or stop me from reading, nor did I notice it up to seeing a paragraph detailing how the word is ambiguous. I imagined them as green, and if I had been able to read in Irish, I think the word "glas" would have given same impression, if as ambigious, nearly, as "fallow".

No, knowledge is not the privilege of the guys who earn lots of money. It is sometimes the privilege - due to other factors in acquisition, like dogged patience and absorbing interest - of people taking the time NOT to earn money, at least not in ways unrelated to their pursuit.

What Elsevier is really doing is shutting up a kind of competitor - if they succeed (or if they succeeded, the article being now a few months old).

And suing libraries can also shut up works that have been banned, but not by the Index congregation of the Catholic Church.

In other words, copyright is used as a way of censoring - often indirectly, when this or that government trying to censor has an interest coinciding with Elsevier, sometimes directly, if someone who has spoken in public were to try to censor a public criticism of his views by appeals to copyright, complaining about copyright infringement. This I think some of my opponents (yes, I have such*) have tried in so clumsy ways, that even extant copyright laws have not been applicable to my detriment, but have rather been my shield. But they can instead use their secrecy to detract me in private, over network after network and nothing said in public against me, so I can't sue for calumny.

I actually think abusing copyright for shutting down sites was predicted in the Bible.

Or not. I had confused the flying scroll in first verses of Zachariah 5 with the woman in the vessel in the second part. It is in the second part that you find "this is wickedness". About the vessel, not the scroll (in DR, volume). And forgotten that the scroll was destroying the houses of thieves on the order of God the Lord. Unless one is to say, that in working this, God makes use of human wickedness. Also, the measure mentioned in Zachariah, if converted from cubit to meters, is perhaps too big for a normal satellite and too small for its solar arrays : 4,572 m * 9,144 m. So, sorry, my memory deceived me.

Either way, it would be wickedness to "burn up" a home page or profile "from the inside" on internet just due to copyright infringement. Especially in the above context. But I was wrong to see this predicted in Zachariah 5.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St Gregory of NeoCaesaraea
called the Thaumaturg

* Try to figure out how many opponents I get for just these two:

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