The first copyright battle (as far as we know) was waged not by lawyers, but swords. In the 6th century, Irish Abbot Saint Columba copied a religious text belonging to missionary Saint Finnian. Saint Columba produced this volume by hand, as was necessary in a pre-printing press culture. Saint Finnias claimed that the handmade copy belonged to the owner of the original.
King Diarmait mac Cerbaill, High King of Ireland at the time, ruled in Saint Finnias’ favor, saying, “To every cow belongs its calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.” Saint Columba took issue with the ruling and convinced a clan to rebel against King Diarmait. Thus began the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne, the Battle of the Book. Records place the battle’s casualties at 3,000, but older sources tend to be lax about tallying up bodies.
Modernity replaced bloodshed with injunctions and lawsuits, but copyright remains a grave matter. People fire off cease-and-desist notices, not bullets. In the case of academia, student plagiarists lose their scholastic futures.
Amidst the business of making money, the artistic motivations of plagiarism tend to get lost. Discussion revolves around the act of plagiarism and not the plagiarist. This series of articles attempts to address that imbalance somewhat. It explores different fields and disciplines to tease out the nature of the plagiarist, their conditions and considerations throughout the ages. It is by no means comprehensive — such an article would quickly become a novel. Instead, it will bring into question the essence of plagiarism, its merits and demerits.