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Conversation with the Copywright

[In an early 12th century Benedictine monastery, a monk called Paul is silently scribing the words of the Bible from one book to another. Another monk, Gregory, noisily bursts in to Paul’s chamber.]

Greg: Watcha doin’, Paul?

Paul: Greg? I should have known it’d be you coming to bother me. What do you think it looks like I’m doing? I’m copying, aren’t I? Copying, just like I was yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and the day before that…

Greg: Watcha copyin’?

Paul: What kind of stupid question is that, boyo? The Bible, of course! Now go away or else take a vow of silence. With your prattle I can hardly concentrate on what it is I’m writing here.

Greg: But why you doin’ that? Why are you copyin’ the Bible? [Bites apple, talks to self] They shouldn’t let us eat apples. They’re too tempting.

Paul: I’m a scribe. Copying is my profession. Now don’t you have any work to do?

Greg: I’ve just been makin’ beer. Now that’s a job where you can really enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Paul: Well I’m enjoying doing this (taps on his new copy of the Bible). Or I will, if you don’t make me lose my place.

Greg: Call me blasphemous if you like, but if God wanted us to know the words of the Bible, he’d have put them in all our heads at birth, instead of making us learn ’em and copy ’em and all that palaver.

Paul: Yes that is right, Greg… you are blasphemous. Don’t let the Abbot hear you talking like that.

Greg: So who gave you permission to copy the Bible, anyhow?

Paul: Greg, you are really starting to get on my nerves. I don’t need permission to copy the Bible. Why would I?

Greg: Well, it’s not your Bible is it? You don’t own them words.

Paul: Are you sure you have not be drinking as much beer as you have been making? I don’t know what you mean by saying they’re not my words. They’re words. Nobody owns words, just like nobody owns the sky or the breeze. You can own the paper, and you can own the book, but you cannot own the words.

Greg: What I mean is, you didn’t think up the words yourself, did you?

Paul: So?

Greg: So somebody had to write them in the first place. You should ask permission from the person what thought of them first.

Paul: Well, that would mean asking permission from God then.

Greg: Exactly. You should pray to God and ask him permission to use his words. Else you’re stealin’, and even I know that’s a sin.

Paul: So you want me to ask God in Heaven for permission to copy his words?

Greg: That’s what I said.

Paul: Well that is truly lucky, because he spoke to me just this very morning and implored me to hurry up with this here copy of the Bible.

Greg: Verbal contract, eh? I don’t see that holding up in a court of law. You should have got written permission.

Paul: Written permission from God? You really are being ridiculous. God does not write things down.

Greg: That’s a bit confusin’, because if he don’t write stuff down then how are you copyin’ that book? Somebody had to write down the Bible the very first time, and whoever did it, you should have got permission to copy it from them.

Paul: I simply do not understand you, Greg. You’re not entirely cut out for being a Monk, are you?

Greg: Paul, see here, look at it like this… you reduce the economic value of a book each time you make a copy.

Paul: Are you simple in the head, boyo? What’s this talk of economic value? You can’t put a price on the word of the Lord. Anyhow, who would go to the trouble to write a whole book, any book, only to then make it hard for people to read that same book by not allowing anyone to copy it? What would be the point of that then?

Greg: To stop other people profiting from your hard work, that’s the point. It’s like that fella… what was ’is name…? Julius, that was it, Julius. You remember him? He came round, tryin’ to flog that blanket…

Paul: (Laughs) … yes, I remember him, funny fellow he was.

Greg: He said it was the Turin Shroud. Said that Jesus Christ himself had been wrapped up in it.

Paul: Yes, I remember. But what does that have to do with it?

Greg: Well it weren’t the Turin Shroud, was it? It was a copy. But he was chargin’ people to see it all the same. Now suppose another fella came to town with the real Turin Shroud – who’d pay to see his shroud? He wouldn’t get a penny. And all because somebody had made money by sellin’ the rights to a knock-off copy.

Paul: But Greg, you can see I’m plainly not selling this Bible, now am I? Nor am I charging anyone to have a look at it.

Greg: That’s as may be. But if you show it to people for free, you’re still muckin’ things up for the guy who wrote the words in the first place. Maybe he did want to charge people to look at those same words. Nobody’s gonna buy ’em off ’im if you give ’em away for free first.

Paul: Gregory, sometimes I think you wander far from the flock, and this time you’re really taking this blasphemy far too far. Must I remind you that this book that you’re so flippant about contains the actual word of God?

Greg: I know, I know, but you’re not God and yet I see it’s you that’s copyin’ it out in your bestest longhand. Not God. You wot’s copyin’ it. And all I’m saying is that people might want to pay good money for a Bible, but every time you make a copy, you reduce the value of every other copy. That’s just supply and demand, that is.

Paul: So if I burned a copy, that would be making the remaining books more valuable, would it now?

Greg: Exactly.

Paul: First you talk blasphemy, then you talk of burning books. You talk far too much for my liking. Surely you can see, Greg, that if nobody reads a book, it has no value at all? But tell me, how would you do things any differently?

Greg: (Rubs his chin and thinks.) That’s a very interesting question, Paul. Well, I suppose I’d start by making sure the author’s name is written on the first page of any book, so everyone knows who owns the words.

Paul: That would be rather like how you have your name on a label that’s sewn into the back of your habit, so that everybody knows that it’s your habit, even though your smelly habit stinks to such an extent you’d think your bad habit was the worst smelling habit that ever was worn by a monk.

Greg: That’s right. Then I’d write the year the book was first written underneath the name.

Paul: And why would you do that?

Greg: Well, after a while, the geezer who wrote the book is bound to be dead. So if you write when it was written, in about a hundred years you can be sure that he’s dead…

Paul: … or she, it could be a she…

Greg: Don’t be silly, Paul. In about a hundred years you’d know the author was dead so then it’s alright to copy it ’cos there’s nobody left alive to complain when you do.

Paul: If the only reason the author wrote the book was to make money, then maybe he would still want to make money after he was dead.

Greg: I said don’t be silly. Who wants to make money after they’re dead? What would be the point? You’re either in Heaven or Hell. If in Heaven, you don’t need money. If in Hell, there’s no amount that will buy your way out.

Paul: So you would allow people to make copies for free, once the author had died?

Greg: Yes, yes I would. But before that, nobody could make a copy without getting permission first, and to get permission, they might have to pay. Fair’s fair.

Paul: So where does that leave Jesus Christ, then?

Greg: I beg your pardon?

Paul: Well this here Bible has an awful lot of his words in it, and many of them are from Jesus Christ himself. Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sake of our sins, but then he came back to life. So what would be the way to handle a scenario where somebody made a copy of Jesus’ words in the meantime between his death and resurrection?

Greg: That’s a bit of a special case, that one, but I’d have to say that in those circumstances you’d need to ask Jesus for permission retrospectively, and destroy any copies if Jesus didn’t grant the permission quick like.

Paul: Oh, Greg. (Chortles) You do make me laugh. If nobody had ever copied the Bible, then nobody would ever have read it, and then none of us would ever have been monks, would we now? There’d be no church, and no religion. Imagine that. There’d probably be no writing, and no education, because what is learning except training people to copy their elders and betters? And the only justification you give for this scheme to prohibit all copying is to sate a sin – the sin of greed! You’d ban the free spreading of wisdom by copying, so people could profit from it instead. You know you really must be careful not to talk like that in front of the Abbot, as he is bound to think the evil one has taken possession of you, Greg.

Greg: Heh, heh. (Smiles) I was only havin’ you on, wasn’t I? Got you goin’ though, didn’t I? Nah, you’d have to be right ignorant to want to stop people copyin’ stuff. I mean, it ain’t like it’s stealin’ is it? If it was stealin’, then monks like you would have been breakin’ the commandments every time you copied from the Bible! How ridiculous would that be?

Paul: Oh Greg. Let’s call it a day. Now do you suppose that you’ve some beer to slake the thirst of a hard-working scribe like me?

Greg: Well, this morning’s batch must have been fermentin’ for about five hours now. So of course it’s ready.

Paul: Greg, you’ll have to tell me how you make your beer someday.

Greg: Share my recipe…? Nah – it’s a trade secret…! (Laughs)

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