Hermetic Piracy

If a mage manages to surreptitiously copy hermetic information (e.g. Summae, Tractati, Lab Texts, Initiation Scripts) without the owner's permission, but also without marring the original in any way, could it still be construed as an Hermetic Crime ? If it's done without harming the original, you are not "depriving someone of magical power", and if you do not use magic to do it from afar, but say you sneak in and magically committ the book to memory (e.g. a spell to temporarily memorize it, and a ritual to put it to paper/parchment later), or use the Art of Memory Ability, you are not "scrying".

The problem is that you are still stealing power from the books author. The writer of the book still has the right to charge an amount for letting you copy the book. Now that you are copying the book without permission you are not giving the magus/maga the vis that he or she is entitled to have. Thus your character are committing a low crime as you are depriving a fellow magi from power.

That’s my thoughts


The objection has merit, but then I assume it would be relatively slight low crime (such as harming or stealing on the mundane resources of the mage), since you are not depriving the magus of a certain and present magical resource, you are cutting him off from a possible, albeit likely, opportunity of magical improvement. Morevoer, it would be quite difficult to prove, unless one gets caught red-handed or leaves significant magical traces around, since one can always claim indepedent discovery or reverse-engineering. I very much doubt that Quaesitors have authority to perform mind-probes for a low crime.

Detecting spells cast and sigils left in a library, a reading room or the living quarters a magus got assigned in the covenant holding the library can be done with Sight of the Sigil (HoH:TL p.75). No mind-reading is needed to verify and prove a plausible initial suspicion.

Whether the act of copying books of another covenant without permission constitutes a crime, and whether this crime is low or high, will probably depend on the local peripheral code in vigor at a given Tribunal.
I can imagine that border Tribunals like Novgorod have other things to care about, while established ones like the Rhine, Roman, Norman or Provence Tribunals could well have ruled it a very serious breach of trust and a high crime (namely depriving a covenant of magical - bargaining - power).

Kind regards,


A theme of 4th edition covenants building was negative contacts, ie spies. One that I have used in the past is getting librarians subverted by a foreign covenant to copy texts without the mages knowledge. Once the librarian absconds with said books, the mages might not even know that he has copied any books, and legally the position would be different if a mundane - a member of the covenant being robbed was the one commiting the crime.

This is just what I meant about "leaving magical traces around". I was thinking of Quaesitor investigational spells. Nonetheless, there ways around them.

Oh, be serious ! A High Crime ? Impossible. A "deprivation of magical power" high crime charge involves endangering the Gift of the victim or putting her in the effective impossibility or very serious difficulty to use magic. Gagging and wristbinding the mage and chaining him to a wall, that's a high crime. Depriving a mage of copy right vis profits is only depriving him of a minor and inidrect perspective opportunity to augment his magical proficiency. It's a low crime if ever, and of the trivial quality. Stealing one's apprentice is a low crime, and it's a much more serious deprivation.

I can of course accomodate you with houserules here - as I last time did when I invented a thirteenth founder for you - but the 'official' interpretation of the code of Hermes from HoH:TL p. 46 states about 'deprivation of magical power': "A magus' magical property is also considered part of his magical power. Vis, vis sources, magical sites, invested devices, familiars, apprentices, books and lab equipment are all protected under this provision." So it is a Tribunal decision whether also the diminishing the economical value of Hermetic books is persecuted as 'deprivation of magical power', hence as a high crime.

The 'official' take from HoH:TL p.46 is, that stealing an apprentice is a high crime.

Kind regards,


  1. Stealing an Apprentice is a High Crime IIRC

  2. Remember that a modern view of relative seriousness may be totally different from a medieval view. Your statement is clearly a modern view. Gagging, wristbinding and chaining to a wall - thats a passe response for mere suspicion of extremely 'minor' offences like stealing a chicken in medieval society. So doing so for a short term to a magus might not be seen as much of a serious thing if there was a reason behind it.

  3. Interpretation is everything. You've interpreted "deprivation of magical power" to mean certain things. I'm pretty sure that canonically its left pretty open so that ...

  4. There is also the possibility/probability that such a case would be highly political. Tribunal judgements on the relative seriousness and/or penalties for almost any offence (let alone such a vague one as depriving a magus of power) could vary drastically for identical cases. Context means a great deal, as does the political strength of friends and enemies. At least, if you want your tribunals to be like interesting... :smiling_imp:

Hmm, that part of the book also states that a High Crime is a "clear and direct breach of the Code [...] any act tha detrimentally affects a magus' ability to use, practice or study magic is illegal." Note: it speaks about being illegal, i.e. an Hermetic crime; by all means not all Hermetic crimes are High Crimes. "The most serious violation would involve the destruction or maiming of another's Gift. Any physical injury that restricts the ability to speak, gesture or general mobility is serious". Note: Serious: these are the clear, direct and severe violation of the Code that would call for a High Crime. "Vis, vis sources, magical sites, invested devices, familiars, apprentices, books, and lab equipments are all protected under this provision." It is unstated, and hence, questionable, whether these occasions would also meant to be interpreted as High Crimes, but assuming they do, the Code's intent here seems clear: protecting important sources of magical power that directly and clearly necessary for magic study and practices. Books are meant as tools for study, not for profit. Vis sources are clearly meant in the traditional sense: i.e. the magical well in the forest that provides a certain and reliable yearly vis output. There is a whole lot of difference between that a vis profit from bargaining for copy rights on a book that MAYBE another magus will ask to study from the owner, the same difference there is in RL between stealing an oil well or a diamond mine and pirating a song. Moreover, there's a difference between whether the stealing magus sets up shop to sell the pirated book too in competition with rightful owner, or simply uses the pirated source for personal study. The first violation would be more serious, since it would be a sustained diminishing of one's future vis profits. The other is a one-time, minor loss of vis, similar to having caused the offened mage to waste some vis (clearly a low crime). The first case is rather unlikely and hence rare, because the thief would be announcing his crime to all of the Tribunal, unless he has managed to completely cover up one's tracks and build an ironclad fake proof that he researched the discovery independently or maybe reverse-engineered it from observing it being used.

High Crime covers the most serious violations of hermetic law, calling for a eath sentence unless the tribunal finds mitigating evidence. Low Crimes the most trivial ones, generally calling for some form of proportional fine and restitution to the wronged mage, and Renunciation only in the very last resort if the mage stubbornly refuses complying with the sentence.

Magic piracy clearly seems like a low crime, comparable to vagrancy in severity, or negligent wasting of vis or harming invested device or a piece of lab equipment. Of course, theoretically a Tribunal might pass a resolution making all of these violations, or even spitting or wearing a blue tunic, a High Crime; but I am extremely doubtful (to say the least) that book-hoarder mages would ever find a Tribunal majority to pass such a ruling (since pretty much every mage may find onself in the position to have acquired hermetic sources of study in questionable ways, much like vagrancy), or that Quaesitors or the Great Tribunal would allow it to stay in the books.

I honestly fail to remember any such Tribunal ruling in the books. Please direct me to the source, or tell me you are the author of a relevant section of a book (such as Hermetic Law in HoH:TL, or Libraries in Covenants) and that was your intent.

If the book in question where lets say a sound tractatus with a quality of 11 the magus would have paid two pawns of vis for a copy. If this crime where detected there would probably one be a slight fine of lets say eight pawns of vis, four to the tribunal and four to the victim. If the book however where an sound summae of level 15 and quality 16 the fine would be quite larger. It somehow depends on the item stolen and from who it was stolen. Stealing a exceptional summae from Durenmar would be a weary bad idea.

Regardless of the book in question there is good story options. Either gathering enough vis for covering a huge fine or defending one self in a trial. It depends on the enemies of the magus or the covenant.

There are also a good chance to not get caught. One must not penalise player who make immoral actions all the time. But perhaps if you are very unlucky you could become interesting to the infernal. Aiding subtly in your piracy and thus corrupting your magus to become more greedy.

More thoughts on the matter.


Some parts of the Order have a form of copyright that resides with the creator of a book. Some don't. This is was deliberately included as a contentious idea that some Tribunals, like Transylvania and the Rhine take very seriously, and some do not. Beyond this, in those areas where the matter is not a Tribunical matter, certain mages take it seriously and will engage in War to defend their Calf Right, whie others will stand by a magus challenged for making copies of books, based on the political situation.

This is included in "Covenants", in the book section.

I guess you mean the Cow and Calf Oath. IIRC, it is a voluntary proto-copyright pact whereas the buyer of a book agrees not re-sell copies of it in exchange for a discount. It gets Tribunal recognition in Hibernia only, and it is a wholly voluntary agreement, on a similar level as a Covenant Oath. A mage can still buy unrestricted rights to a book, and I very much doubt that that the CCO could ever be enforced as a High Crime.

Yep, contentious, since in mage society (and in any single magus) the conflicting impulse to hoard magical secrets for power and to appropriate them by any means necessary are present and eternally at war. However, since any magus at heart is a scholar and scientist before anything else, I deem that curiosity is somewhat stronger than greed, so I assume that any form of hermetic copyright should be rather more partial, controversial, and challenged than in RL (where copyright is already one of the most controversial and less respected laws). I think that some form of legal protection from blatant ideas theft might as well exist, but that ultimately the average magus would put much more effort and trust in putting strong locks and magical traps on his library than in seeking legal restitution for piracy.

I would also expect pirated mages to seek restitution in kind (books) if at all possible, and only if impractical, vis, even if vis has become the de facto standard currency of the order, including fines. If not vis, seasons of service.

Yep, this might be much more close to what I assume might be the typical Hermetic scenario for piracy situations. I would also expect the vast majority of the controversies be settled off-courts, in a kind of post-facto buying.

The only thing I deem absolutely likely is the sanctity of the right to personal copy, Cow and Calf Oath notwithstanding. My covenant bought the book, it is ours to use in perpetuity, for us and our apprentices, and covenant members, with the right to do any copy to make up for damage or usury as it may be necessary. I cannot imagine any self-respecting magus agreeing to anything less. For the same reason, I can imagine a form of Hermetic copyright to ban making multiple copies for re-selling and profit, but not for sharing among various covenant-mates or apprentices.


I fear I have to curb some rambling and quoting out of context here.

Let us be precise here, even if we appear a little pedantic, and take the issue at hand step by step.

Question number one: What constitutes a high crime according to Hermetic law?
Answer number one (HoH:TL p.46): "A clear and direct breach of the Code is designated a high crimes (sic!)."
Note especially, that it is not a matter of gravity, but only of clearly and directly breaching the Code, whether a Hermetic crime is a high crime or not.

Question number two: Can interfering with a magus' Hermetic books constitute 'a clear and direct breach' of the Code's provision concerning deprivation of magical power?
Answer number two (HoH:TL p.46): "A magus magical property is also considered part of of his magical power. Vis, vis sources magical sites, invested devices, familiars, apprentices, books and lab equipment are all protected under this provision."

Question number three: Which kind of interference with Hermetic books owned by another magus constitutes a Hermetic crime, and which is clear and direct enough to constitute a high crime?
Answer number three: No ruling mandatory in all Tribunals on this subject is known to us. Each Tribunal can hence decide this on its own. And all established Tribunals will need a ruling.

Question number four: Is an established Tribunal likely to decide, that unauthorized copying of Hermetic books constitutes a clear and direct breach of the Code?
Answer number four: Yes. Destroying, damaging or stealing another magus' or covenant's Vis sources 'clearly and directly' breaches the Code, hence is a high crime. And in established Tribunals with well-organized, wide-spread trade between magi and covenants good, unique books are just such Vis sources. Making unauthorized copies of them deteriorates their trade value and damages them as Vis sources.

Question number five: Need all Tribunals follow the argument under answer number four, and define unauthorized copying of books owned by other magi a high crime?
Answer number five: No. The argument is plausible, but its acceptance depends on the political and economical realities within the Tribunal.

Just read the paragraph you quoted once more, and this time precisely. You will find that you did not even understand it before you wrote your answer.

Kind regards,


Sounds reasonable to me - and leads to all kinds of fun arguments about the equivalence of books.

I think this will stand before most Tribunals indeed. The grey area around it is former apprentices moving to another covenant and bringing copies from their parens' covenant's library with them.

Kind regards,



points one, two and three ultimately do nothing but stress the fact that tribunals are ultimately sovereign and can theoretically pass a ruling construing pretty much any act that might be linked in the most tenous and convolute way to a provision of the code as a high crime.

The crux of our disagreement is in point four. While I concede that it is likely that unauthorized copying of books might be ruled a low crime, I repute exceedingly unlikely that it might be ever ruled a high crime by a tribunal. IMO the average mage is too eager for knowledge, too ambitious, and too individualistic, not to see such a law as rather more of a potential menace, than a protection. Book-hoarders are unavoidably in the minority, and since tribunals are essentially a direct democracy, their possibility of having harsh copy right laws passed by bribing and lobbying representatives are much lower. Most mages see the Code as a necessary evil, and are fearful of giving hermetic law too much power to potentially interfere in their laws. IMO, even in trade-rich teribunals, such an harsh ruling would not pass. Mind it: even the much more ruling allowing the Cow and Calf Oath, which is voluntary, has passed in only one Tribunal, and it is highly controversial.


you are rather hard to understand. Perhaps you might indeed wish to edit your last post and make it clearer?

But apparently you still perceive that a 'high crime' must be punished harshly, while that term indeed just denotes a crime which - by the perception of the Tribunal - clearly goes against the Code.

You also might wish to look up medieval one-man-one-vote democracies like monasteries (yes, many of them voted the abbot every year, all the monks having equal votes - and came always up with that somewhat capable candidate whose family would do most for the monastery) or the Republic of Venice. Then you might understand why the Rhine Tribunal allowed and still allows older magi to cast extra votes, and why interests and magical/economical power determine the Tribunal decisions in the ArM5 books.

Kind regards,


I'd just make the point that contracts impinging the right to copy are, as I recall, in period. Not for religious works, of course...

I think there's more to the specifics. Was it done to a poor, young covenant, or a powerful one? Was it done by a powerful covenant or a weak one? How were the covenant guards passed by? Did a wizard do it himself?

I think there's room for debate in Tribunals here, and there's no clear, singular answer. It's obviously part of the peripheral code, and the code would be interpreted to achieve the desired outcome. I imagine politics would play heavily, and I don't imagine some chatty discourse between objective people. I do imagine it would generally be seen as a bad thing, and I think older magi and covenants wouldn't endorse the act, even if they withheld judgement at Tribunal. I can't think of anyone who would genuinely support such an act except the purpetrator.

Did this come up at a game?

You may want to check outthe"Calf Oath" as an example of how the Peripheral Code addresses copying texts, from the Covenants supplement. I could eaily see House Tremere getting involved to champion the victims--butit really comes down to what kind ofstories your troupe enjoys, and what's going on in the game. That is, why are you asking the question?

Not yet. Most of the group is temporarily dispersed in vacation and the current agreement is to put ArM on hold in our periodic rotation of games until TMRE and RoP:I have been available and duly digested (and then, we may, at last, run the neat whodunit demo written by Neil). So far, it is a fuzzy possible story idea. While thinking about the Art of Memory and Initiation Scripts, I thought it might be a neat "thief" scenario to sneak up in the library of some pompous and greedy hermetic book-hoarder (probably bespectacled, nerdy, living in a covenant by the sea and trying his worst to corner the market in hermetic information wtih shady dealings ... :wink: ) and manage to steal some juicy spell or script by memorizing it (summae and maybe tractati are probably too long to pull this out, but it may be doable for Lab Texts and Initation Scripts). And I wondered what the outcome might be if caught and brought before a tribunal. Maybe I might tack this idea to the whodunit scenario as a subplot (hmm, a suspect for murdering a mage by diabolism who reaps hermetic piracy charges as well, let's talk about living dangerously :open_mouth:)