| || |
Writers and Irish celebrate St. Columba's Day
June 9, 2011 - Stephen Browne
June 9 is the day of St. Columba, also called Colum Cille, "Dove of the Church," a scholar renowned for his piety and learning who died on this day in 597 A.D.
Columba is celebrated as one of the 12 apostles of Ireland, and preached the faith to the Picts of Scotland. He is also known for his association with the first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
So why is this obscure Irish holiday important if you're not Irish?
Well it happens that around the year 560, while resident at Movilla Abbey, Columba borrowed a psalter from his colleague Saint Finian, for the purpose of copying it. Finian objected that he hadn't given permission for Columba to copy it and demanded Columba hand over the copy.
In old Ireland it was the custom to settle disputes in two different ways. Columba evidently tried both of them. First they submitted the case to a brehon. (Meaning a judge or arbitrator, thought by some to be the source of the family name eventually anglicized as Browne.) Since the individuals were so prominent the case eventually went to Diarmaid, the High King at Tara.
Now here's where it gets interesting for those of us who love obscure history. After hearing the arguments, Diarmaid ruled, "With every cow goes its calf, with every book goes its copy."
This one-line decision is the origin of copyright law. That's the law that gives teeth to that little warning under articles published herein that you can't reprint it, rewrite it, or file the name off and claim it as your own. That's the legal institution that makes it possible for writers to make a living at it.
Nowadays we're having to rethink the whole issue of intellectual property. Cheap recording and reproducing technology, starting with Xerox copiers, audio and video cassette player/recorders, and now the Internet have made it easy and cheap to reproduce and disseminate all kinds of media world wide. Almost overnight the problem went from getting your work published, to getting anyone to pay attention to it in an age of information glut.
And once you get anyone to read/watch/listen to your stuff, how do you get them to pay for it when they're grown used to getting it free?
Nobody's figured that out yet. And if and when somebody does, I somehow don't think it's going to be as simple as Diarmaid's judgment.
Not that Diamaid's decision pleased everybody either. After he rendered his verdict, St. Columba took it ill, and resorted to the other traditional Irish method of settling disputes.
In most un-saintly fashion Columba started a war over it, culminating in the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, which he lost. If you wonder how anyone could get this worked up over an issue of copyright, perhaps you don't know authors, or Irish.
After a synod of clerics threatened to excommunicate him, Columba agreed to go into exile for life in Scotland to do missionary work, and vowed to convert as many people as had been killed in the strife. He returned to Ireland only once years later, when ironically called on to serve as brehon in another dispute. He was carried ashore standing on a plank covered with Scottish turf, blindfolded, so he would neither see nor stand on his native land again.
No comments posted for this article.
Post a Comment
News, Blogs & Events Web