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© What is Copyright?

St. Columbkille was born in the year 521, near Church Hill in Co Donegal, quite close to what is now the Glenveagh National Park. In later life the good saint borrowed a psalter from St. Finian and quickly made a copy of it. Finian was furious and claimed that the copy was rightly his own, just as much as the original book, but Columbkille disagreed. Their quarrel was taken before Diarmuid, the High King of Ireland, who pronounced the world's first copyright judgement in the year 561:

"To every cow its calf," he said, "And to every book its copy."

That wasn't the end of it. Columbkille virtually declared war on Finian and in the famous "Battle of the Books" some 3000 monks were slain beneath the limestone prow of Benbulben near Sligo. Columbkille was again hauled before the High King and was ordered never to set foot on Irish soil again. He was ordered to found an abbey in Scotland, out of sight of Ireland, and to convert 3000 heathens in atonement for the slaying of 3000 monks. The abbey was founded on Iona and 3000 heathens were duly converted. Columbkille was a Donegal man at heart and was no doubt aggrieved at his exile. Forbidden ever to set foot on Irish soil again, he returned home with clods of Scottish soil filling his boots!

That's not the end of the story, as the copy of the psalter became a prized possession of the O'Donnells of Donegal. They knew it as the Cathach or Battle Book and they always carried it three times around their army before going into battle. This was to ensure victory, but it didn't prevent them losing the book to the McDermotts in 1497. The offending book still exists, now in the care of the Royal Irish Academy. Learned scholars say that it contains on average a mistake every ten lines, lending credence to the story that it was originally copied in haste.

So there you have it... saints, scholars, battles and a badly written book.

Copyright has been refined over the centuries and is pretty well established in the laws of most countries around the world. Basically, once you commit an original form of words to paper, or any other tangible form, or the moment you take a photograph, or execute a drawing or painting, copyright subsists in the work from that moment. The copyright belongs to the creator of the words or images. Copyright in a work can be sold by the creator, either to allow someone to produce a one-off copy, or it can be sold in its entirety. Copyright subsists in all Paddy Dillon's work, in all his words and photographs, under the terms of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

However, copyright is often breached, or infringed, which is against the law. Unscrupulous people, too lazy to complete original research, will steal words and images and attempt to pass them off as their own. Sometimes they get away with it, but sometimes they are discovered. Plagiarists will attempt to rewrite someone else's words, with varying degrees of success, or attempt to manipulate an image in order to pass it off as their own. Bearing in mind that copyright originated in Ireland, it has come to the author's attention that his copyright has been infringed most often in that country. Here are two examples of plagiarism:

Written on the spot by Paddy Dillon in 1991 and published in 1992:
"Nearby is a feature worthy of a short detour - a prominent peak of pure quartz. This is a dazzling landmark on a sunny day (the Irish for quartz is grianchloch = sunstone)."

Written by someone else about the same place in 1998 for a walking magazine:
"You'll pass a conspicuous, brilliant white outcrop of quartz, which from a distance looks like a patch of snow. The Irish for quartz, grianchloch, translates aptly as 'sunstone'."

Written by someone else about the same place in 2012 for a guidebook:
"On a clear day, a prominent outcrop of pure white quartz can be seen gleaming in the sun from here. The Irish for quartz, Grianchloch, means 'sunstone'."

This kind of thing happens on occasions, throwing into question just how much 'original' research is actually being done by the plagiarist, and how much is simply being copied and reworked. How would a publisher like Lonely Planet or Collins react if they thought their 'researchers' were copying other published sources? How would a reader react if they discovered that the 'up-to-date' information they thought they were buying was actually copied from a source several years older? People who infringe the copyright of others are always going to be several steps behind. They damage the reputation of their publishers and in the process, their own reputations too.

Serious breaches of Paddy Dillon's copyright will always be acted upon. Word for word infringement of copyright is outright theft, yet some people attempt to do this with articles from magazines and entire chapters from guidebooks. Editors and publishers are informed of breaches of copyright, with serious consequences for those who steal the copyrighted form of words. It can take days to check and write a route description... and only a minutes to steal the words. In the meantime, things might have changed which only the originator may know about. It's much safer for editors and publishers to rely on an original piece of writing; and that's worth protecting.