Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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KABAKOFF / INTRODUCTION
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one ru le between the au tho r ’s righ t to profit from his labors
and the general public’s righ t to benefit from his knowledge?
We now have available a valuable Hebrew volume by Prof.
N ahum Rakover en titled
Zekhut ha-Yotzrim ba-Mekorot ha-
Yehudiyim
(Copyright in Jewish Sources, Jerusalem : T h e Library
o f Jewish Law, 1991), which deals extensively with the funda ­
mentals o f copyright law and offers many examples o f how they
were applied in various instances in the past.
T he copyright system in general law is quite late and did not
come into use until considerable time after the development
o f the p r in ting press. T h e early Jewish sources did not deal
with the subject directly, bu t we do find rabbinic statements
which condemn plagiarism and compare it to stealing o r en ­
croaching upon someone else’s property . By the same token,
the Ethics o f the Fathers (6:6) puts it positively when it states
tha t “whosoever repo rts a thing in the name o f him who said
it brings deliverance to the world.”
A fter the invention o f the prin ting press the plagiarist was
often castigated as one “who wraps himself in a
tallit
which is
not his,” o r as one who “decorates himself with feathers tha t
belong to o thers .” Prof. Rakover describes the efforts o f various
scholars to oppose the practice. Among these was Shlomo Halevi
Alkabetz, who in his commentary o f the Scroll o f Esther
(Minhat
Halevi)
complained bitterly tha t others had borrowed from him.
Isaac Halevi Horowitz, in his
Shnei Luhot ha-Berit,
was especially
critical o f the practice which he considered worse than stealing
money. Jacob Emdin went as far as to castigate those who used
quotations too liberally, even if they cited the sources.
With the advent o f prin ting and the introduction o f the p rofit
motive, au tho rs solicited recommendations from noted scholars
which they would place at the beginning o f the ir volumes. These
recommendations o r approbations were in tended not only to
help the au tho rs promote the sale o f the ir books, bu t also to
pro tec t them and the ir prin ters from piracy. They thus con­
stituted a form o f copyright protection.
In some instances prin ters were not perm itted to rep r in t
books un d e r the th rea t o f
herem
(excommunication) o r fines.
At times p rin ters were th rea tened with a ban if they rep r in ted
a work within a period o f up to 25 years as stipulated in the
approba tion tha t accompanied the work. Rabbis were called