Hidden between the cracks of our world, is a different world. A world protected by powerful wards and secrecy spells. A world of magic. But even more hidden, lurking in the shadows of the magical world, is the magical underground.
Uncaring of the laws of both the mundane and magical governments, people gather to sell illicit substances, trade knowledge of harmful magic, exchange exotic animals, and most importantly; to sell books on the cheap.
Today I’m going to tell you of the book-copying skirmishes of both ancient and recent history.
It all started out innocently with the invention of the copying spell. A great invention that made the printing press nearly obsolete in the magical world. The invention is celebrated to this day. But of course, this useful spell was easily exploited.
People would enter libraries and book-stores, copy every book they needed, and leave without having to pay a thing. Authors, publishers and book-store owners were being run out of business with no end in sight. It’s then that the law stepped in to protect the citizens. Book copying for the purposes of profit or distribution was outlawed. Law enforcement could now be called when thieves were caught by library and shop owners. All was well.
Or, you know, it was all well on the surface. Because there were of course wizards, witches and sorcerers who didn’t care about the letter of the law. They used spells to stay invisible, spells to hide their bags full of books, or they simply used mundane shoplifting techniques.
While not being in such dire circumstances as before, book related businesses still suffered. These copied books were sold at a much lower price on markets and ‘second hand’ bookstores. The genuine sellers couldn’t compete since they still had to send back a percentage of the profits to the authors while also getting some profit for themselves.
It was then that the anti-copying spell was invented. Which neatly stopped the underground book market for about a week, before the underground spell inventors found a counter spell.
It went on like that for a while, new spells being invented on both sides of the conflict. On one side, to prevent the copying, on the other, the opposite. But then someone had a better idea; a warning system. A spell that would sound an alarm the moment someone tried to copy or otherwise tamper with a book.
This was a real breakthrough, quickly followed by tracking charms that would be removed for any genuine purchase.
And this is where it went wrong. For the underground sellers could simply buy one book genuinely, bring it home, work on the spells there, and go on copying.
Of course any shops proven to be selling illegally copied books were handled by law enforcement, and market stalls doing the same didn’t last long. But there were still places law enforcement couldn’t reach. Shops hidden by even more powerful wards and secrecy spells than those hiding the magical community. Shady sellers standing on street corners, easily able to escape should the police arrive. And then the network of contacts anyone even tangentially related to the underground dealings was a part of.
One time a post office was raided after a tip, and it turned out to be the headquarters of a huge book-copying cartel. They didn’t have to meet their customers, simply sent the books via the post. The papers ran the story for months, every post office in the country was raided and three more were found. It was a real scandal.
Meanwhile, new anti-copying magic was being invented, all culminating the anti-copying potion. As long as the book was covered with the potion sufficiently, the copying spell was useless. Maybe one or two letters or a word here and there would come through, but a few letters and a word does not a book make.
There was no way around it, any extra potion to remove the first would ruin the book. Spells were useless at dispelling the magic soaked into the pages. People rejoiced, for the book-copying fiends were defeated at last.
Until, a few months later they found out the book-underground would go farther than anyone predicted. They copied the books painstakingly by hand, then copied their potion free handwritten copies. One group of book-loving inventors was so enraged by this, that they invented a spell that would prevent even this. There would be no way, not even by hand, to copy a book. The spell was barely legal, straddling the edge of controlling the people under it’s effects. And when it became more widely implemented, more problems arose.
People couldn’t take notes. While fine for fiction, students trying to do their homework were anything but thrilled by this development. The spell quickly fell out of use after that.
And that’s were we stand now, at a grudging stalemate. It takes anywhere from a month to more for any illicit copies to show up and most people buy books from reputable salespeople. It’s not perfect, but at least no one is going out of business.