I have a setting where there is an online shop that sells magic script, which sent via email. The magic in this world is activated via a runic script - similar to a program code.

The problem is, I don't know how this shop could deliver the rune script (magic "scroll") safely without anyone be able to copy the rune script after the delivery. Different from program, the runic script is not compiled, so everyone could see the source "code". It can be photographed, or redrawn, and that's the issue.

Like a program code, the effect of various scripts is different. Even a fireball spell can be designed with different colors, or even a rainbow fireball! So, the issue with copyright here - I don't want my rainbow colored fireball script to be freely used, they must buy it from my shop. It is very hard to write the correct script to include each color and not make it too green or blue.

The script can be deciphered by an expert runologist, but the general idea of what the script does can be inferred immediately after seeing it. It's like reading a kanji for "Fire", but complicated with the kanji for 7 colors.

So, the setting is like in our 21st century modern world. Magic already exists from the beginning, but only few (I'm thinking less than 100 in each country) actually know how it works. The numbers greatly decline through the time because less people believe it, and spend time to actually understand it. Thus, the magic communities developed an online shop for their community to use - ordinary people would just shrug off them as nonsense website.

So, how to protect the magic script from piracy?

Note: Anyone can activate the magic script without needing magical power. It's like flipping a light switch. The rune need to be drawn using magical ink, but it is not rare, in fact it's very, very common and easy to acquire in the magic communities.

The license ideally works only on the buyer, and not anyone else, even someone that can produce the exact image of the magic script. The license is transferable, either independently from the author or requiring the author to send a new script or altering something else, either is fine. I prefer a non-shareable method for a single magic script (even for family) to prevent someone else able to fake the authorization, but I'm not too tight on this specification.

Related How do sorcerers attempt to prevent common people, or other sorcerers, from duplicating their spell scrolls?, but this is different since this takes place in modern world (and thus worsen the problem of piracy, because it can be posted in forum, sent via chat clients, and such), and this is not a one-use only transaction - the buyer should be able to use the said scripts, but not his friend that receives the photo of the script.

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    $\begingroup$ DRM can't work. It doesn't matter if it's movies or spells, trying to give someone access to something without giving them access to it is impossible. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 25 '17 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly enough, there's some history for naczac's solution in the industry. There's been an effort to give each consumer of media a slightly different version, fingerprinted just for them. They use it to track down the people who rip and upload torrents of their versions. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 25 '17 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Some sort of watermark, then. I immediately dismissed the idea because it only allows tracking the copyright infringer and not enforcing the protection. I didn't realize the possible twist to make it only works when used by the certain person utilizing aura (or maybe only their fingerprint fits in the triggering rune?). The only way I have considered this are via that refined ink from the author (but can be forged as long as you have the ink), or make the the script as complicated as possible, causing it only can be photocopied using a special printer from the author. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 25 '17 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ Copyright is independant from seeing the script. Whilst everything can be pirated no matter how strong the obfuscation/encryption/drm the copyright can still belong to you and you can still sue people for reprinting what belongs to you. Investing into DRM is wasted money in the real world as even the most elaborated DRM-systems are mostly cracked and redistributed by pirates within hours. Probably wasted effort in the magical world too $\endgroup$ – BlueWizard Jul 25 '17 at 4:31
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to point to what I see as a glaring and very dangerous contraditction in Your setting. If anyone can trigger magic without understanding it, it would NEVER, EVER go to obscurity. Usefull things are NOT forgotten, for many reasons, making money being the most obvious. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Jul 25 '17 at 9:46

33 Answers 33


How about making runes dependent on some magical biometrics, like aura for example. Customer will provide details regarding his or her aura and the rune will be tailored to be activated by a person with such an aura. The reason for this can be something along the lines of being within the aura being different from the outside of it, and only when surrounded by that aura are conditions for rune activation are met.

You can decide yourself on the rules for how aura works, like whether or not family members tend to have similar ones or not. Also, you can decide on behavior in case or person with different aura using it, spell might not activate at all or might produce completely unexpected effects.

In a way spell itself is like a formula, you give parameters like desired effects and aura of the user and get the final rune that can be activated by the person with the said aura. It is not necessarily possible to figure out the actual spell based on the finished rune.

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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix to build on this, it could be that the "aura configuration" isn't necessarily in runes themselves, but in the styling/ordering/writing of those runes ("Oh, Delioth's aura requires you use only red ink and the script needs to be slightly embellished, and you can only scribe runes for him on a Tuesday between the hours of 4pm-10pm (UTC). Vylix can use any ink, but the individual runes have to be shuffled (instead of 1234 they need to be 2413)."). If you make it a difficult science to figure out the specifications needed for a given aura, it becomes hard going from encoded>normal and back. $\endgroup$ – Delioth Jul 25 '17 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ Magical item have almost perfect Id validator. The sword excalibure have been checking Id Aura for years before finding the right one. And his aura Id was not even provided when the sword was created as he was not born. The only issue with Magical item checking is 'plot pun', exemple: "No one can kill me" but we are two.. "no man can kill me" how dare you assume my gender... Runes can be bind to bloodline. And in fact it's not the user aura that is the key it's the craver aura and the target aura. Only the combinasion of those 2 can make a spell castable. $\endgroup$ – Drag and Drop Jul 26 '17 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ building on this, you can use parts of the "aura" as a public/private key pair (RSA encryption) $\endgroup$ – Celebrian Jul 27 '17 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm.. so to 'hack' this, all you'd need is to know their aura and be able to simulate it... $\endgroup$ – marcellothearcane Jul 31 '17 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @marcellothearcane you can fake DNA fingerprint by obtaining the sample of a person's hair. Of course, in this early period - 1984 when we just know about it, there's no way to fake it. Maybe 50 years later. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 31 '17 at 18:51

Magically encrypt your spells and have what is delivered to the person be a script to connect to you magic network for magical online validation for each use. The person won't own the spell, only license the use of the spell attached to it. They will need to register an account and launch your magical spell manager to activate the spell which comes with a one time use spell that expires when used.

If people want they will have to resort to magically pirate your spells by magically breaking your DRM but you counteract that by making it easy to get spells from your store and hard to get pass your DRM. Most people will buy your spell and the few that pirate them will not be significant to matter.

Basically magical itunes.

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    $\begingroup$ What stops people from screenshotting the rune and distributing that? Or taking a picture with a camera? $\endgroup$ – Jarred Allen Jul 25 '17 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ Breaking online verification is one of the oldest tools in the toolbox of every pirate. When your content is decrypted for a single use than this "single use" might just as well be creating an image of it or writing down the spell. Alternatively (more common in the software world) is just a) faking a working internet connection or b) just manipulating the parts of the program that try to validate itself. $\endgroup$ – BlueWizard Jul 25 '17 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ You're in a cave and a giant ogre stand in front of you - threatening you with his giant club. You take out your magic scroll to defeat his ugly giant and - oops, this requires an active internet connection. You die. $\endgroup$ – BlueWizard Jul 25 '17 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ You could connect to iRunes to cast spells with your iRod $\endgroup$ – Alexis Andersen Jul 25 '17 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @BlueWizard a variation of that would actually make for a killer plot point. "Why isn't the fireball spell working? Oh, no, the magical network is down! D:" $\endgroup$ – Alfro Jul 26 '17 at 8:17

Each rune is unique.

You make the runes like concert tickets. I walk into the Ween concert, present my ticket, and am admitted. You walk in behind me with a photocopy of my ticket and are tasered to incontinence. My ticket has been used already and so cannot be used again. Just so the rune: even though many different ones might wind up making a fireball (as many different tickets will get you into the concert), each individual rune can be used once and then it is done.

Each fireball or other magic manifestation will be drawn from a discrete and individual bin of magic set aside by your magicians when this rune is written and corresponding to the individual and unique runic script you received in the internet. Now if I see your email and copy your rune, I can deploy the fireball first and you are out of luck. Just as if you had arrived earlier than me at the concert with the forged ticket.

Could one figure out an active rune by simply trying various permutations and hoping to stumble onto an active one? You could, but the magicians might put some nasty pinch magic into bins corresponding with non-issued runes, to discourage this sort of activity.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a good idea. Having this ubiquitous pool of "already used spells" is easy to sell in a work of fiction. $\endgroup$ – BlueWizard Jul 25 '17 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ @BlueWizard : I did not think about the already used aspect. It would be cool if the runes, in addition to a one-time fireball make, had some other aspect - for example each one could be a haiku. Maybe one that indirectly references the original magic linked to that rune. Used runes with artistic merit would be kept, possibly displayed. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 25 '17 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ Alternately, I walk into the Ween concert with a photocopy of your ticket and am admitted. You walk in behind me with your ticket, and are tasered to incontinence. Your ticket has already been used. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jul 25 '17 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ Some video games take a somewhat similar approach, where you can get an item that can only be used once, but using it makes you “learn” a spell, say, which destroys the item. Could that somehow be done here? $\endgroup$ – Andrea Jul 26 '17 at 15:21

This answer adds to Steve's post. Also it's my first answer. So... hello internet!

Why sell the runic script in source code?

You could encrypt the runes (the picture or the text, whatever fits best) and later decrypt it, when time comes casting the spell. That way your customer needs to know the keyword for this very spell, wich you never tell anyone.

Every customer gets just one electronic Wand

The next step is to sell an extra product or provide it for free. This product could be a handheld device or software (maybe a smartphone app). The device/software helds a unique ID (visible to everybody) and a unique keyword (hidden for everybody). You, the manufacturer, of course can tell wich keyword belongs to every ID. If you sell a spell to a person, they tell their ID and you encrypt your spell with the associated keyword. Then they download the script to the device, wich is the only one, that can execute the spell.

To clarify: The device encrypts the spell just for the moment and never shows a picture of the spell to the operator.

Now the Spell can be casted by one device only. One problem I see with this is as follows: The customer can sell the device along with the spell after he used it and doesn't need it anymore. If you are fine with this, good. If not, make the device valuable or only provide the first device for free.

'Oh, you lost your E-Wand 2000? No problem, buy another one for 1500$.'

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Guest! Interesting first answer. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jul 25 '17 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ And what If you are in a sticky situation and your internet connection is too slow... $\endgroup$ – Roman Gräf Jul 27 '17 at 5:38

The runes' spell could work only during a particular timeframe.

In my current office (in the real world), I was sent a link to an important file. The link would only work for 24 hours after I received the email. Your rune could do the same thing; create it so the magic only works for 24 hours after it's emailed to the recipient.

  • $\begingroup$ It does not work that way - as long as you know the exact script and able to reproduce it, it will work exactly the same. But I must add that this is a very interesting mechanism I might expand later: the ink will "dry out" after several hours/days. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 24 '17 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ Clever about the ink "drying out"! By the way, my thinking was that the rune would say, "Abracadabra, a horrifying fireball shall appear and smite thine enemies in a hellish blaze ... today between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon Eastern Standard Time." $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA Jul 24 '17 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ That's actually quite neat. Some sort of prophecy, and thus can only be used within the timeframe specified on the script. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 24 '17 at 23:20

You have two alternatives:

  • rely on international treaties and thus on some kind of "copyright" law, which means runes can be copied, but you are not allowed to.
  • make the rune dependent on the hand of the writer (something akin to oriental "calligraphy") so that a copied rune won't work, perhaps because a small part of the "live force" of the writer is captured in the rune itself (this means, of course, that you'll need to write all your "scrolls", you can't hire scribe or use a "printer").

A (perhaps) viable variation on the second approach:

  • Runes are not to be equated to software scripts, but are similar to hardware devices.
  • You need a special printer to print magical "transistors" and wiring on special paper; something similar is actually done to "print" circuits on glass or plastic film.
  • Making a picture of the resulting work will not help because it won't have the required layering, just like making a picture of a chip die won't allow you to easily duplicate it (of course you can reverse-engineer it, but that is hard work!)
  • Printer you sell/loan/give will include a specific decryption key, different for each printer. The file you send via mail to your customer will be encrypted so that it can be used only on his printer and would be useless gibberish everywhere else (standard encryption technique).

This schema allows several variations, possibly useful:

  • Magical "hardware" may be used "over-voltage" so that (some "circuits" of) it will "burn" upon usage making the "rune" useless.
  • You may include "magical batteries" etched in the "rune" so that you have a limited number of usages, perhaps with diminishing strength.
  • "batteries" may be rechargeable or not.
  • Printer may remember what it printed ("scripts" are serialized) and refuse to print more than the allowed number of "runes".
  • "runes" may be large, like an abstract picture or very small, so you can hide them (e.g.:) in a dot on an otherwise perfectly normal page.
  • $\begingroup$ Hilariously, I find your name is the same with a magic scroll shop owner named Zio. I apologize for the edit on the question, but the delivery is via internet (email), so your 2nd point can't be used. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 24 '17 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix: Then we'll need to expand UNICODE to include runes? after all we already have Klingon ;) ... or are You relying on images? steganography comes to mind. FYI "zio" is the Italian for "uncle", so my nick amounts to something like "UncleByte" due to my long acquaintance with very old computers :p $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jul 24 '17 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ I'm concerned with people photographing it, and print/draw it. I'm set with "identical runes" will produce the same result, so steganography will produce the same result. Printing will also yield the same result. That's why I'm asking for ways to limit the usage of the script to one user, not one use. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 24 '17 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix: in a digital world (and Internet is digital!) there's no such a thing as "non exactly reproducible". Photographing/drawing won't preserve steganography, but direct printing will. Also digital copyright, encryption and all the other plethora of systems we have to "protect" music/film/media works only and as long as hardware producers keep the "secret password" needed to decrypt secret. What You could do is to give your customers a special printer which includes the key to decrypt the message You send with the runes and make them work only if steganography signature is right. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jul 24 '17 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ a special printer which includes the key to decrypt the message This. Make it on your answer please. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 24 '17 at 23:50

Ok, sorry, but I'm going to be the Negative Nancy here and tell you that your entire premise just doesn't work.

Note that a lot of what I write here is essentially a duplication of answers to the question you linked here. Although I didn't realize it until I'd already written most of this.

The best things you can do are 1) limit magic so not everyone can use it (to keep magic rare like you want), 2) make the magic scroll a physical device that's hard to duplicate properly so you earn money by making reliable scrolls, not designing rune programs (makes piracy worthless instead of preventing it), and 3) implement scroll physics that degrades scrolls over time and/or with use, with better-made, more expensive scrolls lasting longer (or you'll go out of business when all 10 magicians in your town have every scroll they need).

Additionally, you might make the "scroll" something small and easy to carry, with "wands" that organize and allow rapid access to the scroll you want. Better scrolls and wands are smaller, lighter, and have better algorithms for accessing the correct scroll.

Alternately, you can just handwave it all and say, "When you purchase the spell over the internet, it magically gets inscribed in your brain and nobody else can use it. Because I said so."

If magic is as easy as you say, everyone will be using it.
If I can just print out several copies of a spell using some special ink, then touch the paper and Boom! fireball happens, people aren't going to randomly stop believing it works. Instead, they're going to go through enormous efforts to figure out how it works until either everyone has access to magic, or the world is destroyed in World War 3.

The only way people stop believing in something is if it stops happening. We didn't stop believing in vampires and werewolves and Bigfoot and Nessie because "like, reasons, bro". We stopped believing in them because there's literally zero evidence any of these things exist, and a great deal of evidence that they're all folk tales that have been modified and added to over centuries.

If you have a very small number of magicians who very carefully protect knowledge of magic from the rest of the world, you can potentially keep it a secret. If the secret is maintained long enough, people will stop believing in magic. If a spell or two gets cast in front of the muggles here and there, people at large won't think too much of it. But the instant one magician shows the world at large that magic is real, your entire Masquerade just shattered.

This is made enormously worse by having readily-copied magic spells. If a vampire is discovered in L.A., the vampire community can sneak in, kill him, and destroy the body. Then, even if there's a good amount of evidence a vampire existed, it's possible the whole thing will eventually be forgotten. But if the vampire turns a hundred people into vampires first, the vampire community will have a very hard time hunting them all down before every other think-tank in the world has a vampire test subject. Likewise, if the ability to cast magic can easily be transferred (without even having to drink blood or burn up in the sun!), the magical community is going to be very hard pressed to keep it a secret.

In order to prevent this, you need to create some kind of hard, physical device that mostly or totally prevents muggles from using magic at all:

  • Magic can only be cast using one of the 1591 wands left by an alien race, and nobody knows how to create new ones. The magical community will keep very close track of where each of the wands is, and only transfer wands under certain circumstances. Further, only the most "eligible" magicians will ever get a wand.
  • Magic spells use a very rare ingredient that only a few people have access to and is extremely difficult to produce. Occasionally, a muggle will acquire a bit and cast a spell or two, but magic will be almost exclusively limited to the rich and powerful magicians. This can be subverted if the amount or type of ingredient depends on the spell type or strength. Then, muggles would commonly have access to common spells, but only the rich and powerful would have access to rare spells.
  • Magic requires an enormous amount of practice to get right, and you pretty much have to be taught by someone else who learned it from the aliens who built the wands, the gods who put magic in the world, etc. So even if a muggle gets their hands on a spell scroll, magic wand, etc., nothing will happen.
  • Magic can only be cast by people with the "magic gene". However, you can't just say it's normal DNA. If it's normal DNA, then you just breed a bunch of magicians together, and you will statistically get more and more magical offspring until you have an entire community of pure-blood magicians. Who will then take over the entire world until the only survivors are magicians. Instead, the magic gene needs to be random in some way. Like, there are only 1591 magic genes on the planet, and when someone dies, the gene floats away into an embryo somewhere on the planet. Maybe it tends to float into embryos near the dead guy, so the magicians are likely to figure out who the new magicians is and bring them into the fold. Or maybe there's a spell to track them. Alternately, maybe the gods randomly give the magic gene to every four hundredth child born during a full moon, so the proportion of people with the gene is constant.

In any case where muggles can use magic, but don't have immediate access to it, the magical community would have to be very strict with magicians who show or teach magic to others. Otherwise, you'd get Julius magicians who just want to make some friends, and pass magic out to the muggles regardless of the rules.

In any case where muggles are physically incapable of using magic, you're going to run into one of a couple scenarios:

  • Magic is so powerful the magicians enslave and/or destroy all the muggles.
  • Muggles vastly outnumber magicians and burn all the magicians at the stake because they float1. A few magicians survive, use their magic to build enormous power bases, remember Salem, and enslave or destroy all the muggles.
  • The magicians stay hidden in Hogwarts with various spells that prevent muggles from finding them. Then some Voldemort types use their magic to build enormous power bases, destroy the other magicians, then enslave or destroy all the muggles.
  • Magic is powerful, but a decent group of citizens armed with pitchforks can take on a single magician. Because there aren't very many magicians in the world, your average citizen isn't too worried about them, and magicians are mostly left alone.

The last scenario is the one you want. You still have to deal with the fact that magicians will tend to rise to positions of prominence and power, and that muggles will tend to know about magic. But at least you have a fairly stable ecosystem with both muggles and magicians. With sufficient policing, a Masquerade can exist for a time, but will ultimately fail.

As pointed out ad nauseum, you can't copy-proof anything sent via email.
This is compounded by the fact that you've explicitly decided that the "source code" is readily visible for all to see, and there's no way to "compile" or obfuscate the code.

To be fair, I'm not really sure you know what you're talking about here. Compiled code is still just code, which can always be reverse-engineered into "source code". The difference is that source code is typically full of helpful comments to explain the code and meaningful object and method names to self-document the code, so it's easy to understand, while compiled code lacks these features and is therefore harder to understand. But we can always deliberately obfuscate source code that compiles just fine while being very hard to understand.

Likewise, unless your runecode is very simple, it would be pretty trivial to deliberately obfuscate the "source code" so it's difficult to understand what's going on (meaning it's irrelevant that it isn't "compiled" code). This is reinforced by your statement that only an expert runeologist can decipher the code.

This means runecode would be easy to copy, but only a good runeprogrammer can edit the code to do new things without exploding the end user every third attempt. So your breadmaker would be programming custom spells for people, not the generic Scrubbing Bubbles2 stuff.

Still, you'll be a victim of piracy as soon as you program anything more than one person would want. Like a really robust spell that handles a variety of situations well. So the only way to stay in business is if your spells are only usable for a short timeframe in a specific location, meaning pirated spells stop working and the customer comes back to you for more. But what will really happen is that some semi-expert pirate will figure out what part of the runecode checks the timestamp and bypass it, then your customers will be annoyed at needing to rebuy their spells every three weeks and just buy the pirated versions.

If you really want copy-resistant spells, the act of reading and/or printing the source needs to be difficult or expensive.
This means you can't send the stuff via email. Sorry, it just doesn't work. The simple fact that the intended end user can easily print their copy means they can print dozens of other copies.

There are numerous ways you can do things from here. You can make reading the runecode difficult by printing the runecode at microscopic scales using a combination of magic and non-magic ink to obfuscate which runes are part of the source and which aren't. You can further complicate it by printing enormous amounts of non-magic text to hide the locations of the magical runes. And you can use layers to print one "page" of code on top of the previous page, so the pirate not only needs to read and analyze microscopic code, but do so in 3D.

Alternately, just make it so printing a working spell requires a great deal of time and/or skill. Maybe the ink has to be mixed flawlessly. So buying a pirated spell will probably turn you into a newt instead of teleporting you to the moon wearing a spacesuit. And might teleport you to the moon as a newt without a spacesuit. Maybe the runework has to be drawn a certain way, with certain rituals. So the pirated spell will result in a segfault just as that ogre is smacking you with a club, instead of projecting a nice shield like the real spell would.

You can combine the two, Dungeons and Dragons-style. Only an expert magician can read a complex spell scroll, and only an expert magician can transcribed a learned spell to a scroll. The possibilities are endless.

Notice, however, that we've shifted the purchased good from the runeprogramming to the scroll-making. If actually programming the spell is the really hard, expensive part, pirates will always be an issue. Because no matter how hard or expensive it might be to read and reprint a spell, it's still cheaper than designing our own program. Only if the physical duplication is the hard part will piracy stop being a problem.

You can still buy over the internet, or have instant-access scrolls.
There's no reason you can't still purchase things via a website. They just need to arrive through some physical method. Like carrier owls. You can make this method as fast as plot requires, so it's still "click the PayPal button, get a spell within 60 seconds".

You can even teleport the scrolls to the end user, but teleportation opens up enormous issues with over-powered magicians taking over the world. Perhaps the "scrolls" are actually teeny-tiny things the size of a BB, so it's easier to teleport them than something like a bomb or human. Plus, that makes it easier for the end user to store them. Then you have a "wand" that holds the pellet scrolls, and you just have to select the the right scroll, touch the pellet through the aperture, and the spell fires off. And you can make extra money selling wands that allow faster, more consistent access to the spell you want.

Alternately, you can have scrolls available via non-internet methods such as vending machines. Non-magicians won't waste their money if they can't use them. Or, the machines are hidden and only people who have the right codes can get to the machines in the magically-hidden alcove.

Ultimately, you need spell scrolls to last a limited time or nobody will need new spells.
Sure, your spellmakers will invent new spells from time to time, but most people will buy all the spells they really need then almost never buy anything again. Then pass the spells on to their kids. Etc.

Instead, you need the spell scrolls to degrade somehow. They could degrade over time, so they start failing more and more after a certain amount of time. Perhaps the most complex (and likely most highly prized) spells fail the quickest. Alternately or simultaneously, they could degrade with each use in the same way. Better, more expensive, spell-printing methods could last longer. So a \$2 cleaning spell works once and fizzles out, while a \$200 printing of the same spell lasts 5 to 10 years reliably.

This degradation has to be a physical constraint in your universe. Otherwise, one spell printer who deliberately creates degrading scrolls will go out of business as soon as another printer creates permanent scrolls for the same price.

1Yes, I'm aware this is in reference to the historical practice, but that's less humorous.
2I know I read this in an official D&D resource at some point, but for the life of me can't find any other references to it.


Although several copyright enforcement schemes could have been tried, as explained in other answers, they are likely to fail due of being cracked or just because they make difficult the access to magic.

Fortunately, some magicians have tried a different approach: open source spells. Those magicians release their runes under several Magic Commons free licenses allowing anybody to copy, modify or reuse them. This has improved access to magic for everybody, has helped the development of community built new spells and has lead to the development of a lot of magic startups that tailor and combine existing open source runes to the specific needs of their clients.

In summary, your magic world is like what would be ours if the proponents of open source software were right in their most optimistic predictions.


Cryptography is the answer you are looking for.

Can't exactly copy my fireball script if you don't have the key that changes it from random gibberish to an actual set of runes. You could also look at servers for your runes. Perhaps there could be other runes that essentially collect people who are allowed to view and use your runes. This table of approved users would then have whatever variant of runes that allows them to read the runes they bought from you applied to them.

Alternatively you could just have another more beastly set of runes that changes the runes from gibberish to actual rune. That way the runes wouldn't actually be runes until the user is approved, for the most part.

Your magic system is inspired by modern tech, so you will need to use modern tech inspired solutions where they apply. What I described above is similar to how access keys work.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the "key", it does seem as though a person in possession of both key and rune could just share both with a friend or sell both to several people. $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA Jul 25 '17 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ They could. To get around that someone could assign a certain number of uses to a key. Another alternative would be using some sort of account tied to an ID. You could also just update the key with every use of the spell, that way it gets used once and changes. This would create a situation in which the current key holder would be the only one who could reliably use the spell. There should be a ton of ways to steal spells like this though, any system can be hacked. $\endgroup$ – user32463 Jul 25 '17 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Good answer Steve. Given the ~100 people per country limit, public key infrastructure could be modelled on the web-of-trust. You have to know a mage to be given a key by signing your web-of-trust then you can sign other's web-of-trust keys. Then it's up to the world-builder if the decryption requires the use of the buyers private key (non-sharable spells) or the sellers public key (shareable spells). The spell creator can even create "private" spells where the formula includes "if caster = paulzag then FIREBALL else flash lights" $\endgroup$ – paulzag Jul 26 '17 at 11:04

Now, let me explain that I am a programmer and I know how code works and is compiled and so your answer ultimately derives from the following assumptions about magic:

I have a setting where there is an online shop that sells magic script, which sent via email. The magic in this world is activated via a runic script - similar to a program code.

The problem is, I don't know how this shop could deliver the rune script (magic "scroll") safely without anyone be able to copy the rune script after the delivery. Different from program, the runic script is not compiled, so everyone could see the source "code". It can be photographed, or redrawn, and that's the issue.

Ok, so the issue here is really just one of engineering (in the broader sense then just "mechanics and robotics"). Now in reality the issue here is this whole "magic ink" concept. Here is the problem.

it is archaic.

Don't get me wrong, it can exist and it isn't bad but you need to find a way around it. Simply put, you use a website to sell scrolls. Great! Well, you cannot avoid piracy. Like.... it would be like if I made a website to sell PDFs of math proofs. If I catch a person, I can sue them for theft, but I cannot prevent it without having a magical demon/enforcer go around and punish offenders. It is impossible. You're literally asking a fundamental business question and it is worsened by print media. Books can be pirated.

Make it fully electronic

You need to do one of two things:

  1. Create a computer that contains circuitry to produce this ink and somehow print the shapes and erase then rapid-fire. If it feasible this quick thing I found in a google search may allow for the shapes to be formed and erased.

  2. Produce a magic spell (that can be bought or distributed) which grants computers the ability to run spells within some kind of programming environment akin to the Java JRE no need to worry about distribution for this one. Java doesn't. It's a programming language installation. Let people use it. It's still copyrighted. It's just that you only care about plagiarism and not piracy. It's freeware. Make the programs written within it what people pay for and cannot pirate.

Either way, these spells and the scrolls sound akin to programming languages and the important fundamental concept here is interfaces and implementations. You don't want people to see your spell. You want to integrate your spell into a computer program.

Now with your "MagicScript" language in hand with compilers and stuff you now gain a few benefits:

  1. Mathematics and Computer Science concepts: Programming Languages have many data structures and complex ideas. If you've ever played Minecraft and seen command blocks you can think of it like that. Spells are a "baby language". They don't have the features of memory allocation and stuff that a computer does. You can therefore create computer-controlled dynamic spells that act like complicated concepts. Computers can try to do calculus. Spells on the other hand may or may not.

  2. Mathematics and Computer Science gain the tools of spells and magic. Simply put, maybe your language has time travel spells that can send things back in time? Guess what? you just solved Legendre's Conjecture, the Collatz Conjecture, and (maybe) the Riemann Hypothesis.... by brute force. Simply put, you can send knowledge or data back in time and form a bootstrap paradox thereby giving a computer infinite processing power. Note that if the program never halts then you'll have a problem. Unfortunately the halting problem proves that there is no algorithm for showing that an arbitrary program halts. So... you'll need magic to somehow either cheat this or just allow the rules of time travel to result in an infinite loop being just... a normal stalled program. I could see some people messing this up. Still, the ability for people to potentially solve super-hard problems that have existed for over a century with brute force is not something you can pass up. Not only that but your computer will never lag if it is used by operating systems creators. Trust me, a movement to secretly put magic into computers in a safe manner is going to make your wizards filthy rich. Riemann Hypothesis is worth 1 million bucks to solve, so if you make a processor capable of doing that via time travel is not only going to make everyone's jaws drop and land you a million bucks. It's also going to land you dozens of manufacturing contracts. You'll own the market on processors. After all, Just patent it with the government. Then if someone makes it within so many years you can sue them. Or cast a spell to destroy the competition. Regardless, all you need an ambitious computer science-savvy wizard.

  3. You get to use existing infrastructures for program management: Ever heard of the website Steam? I've never used it, but I hear they're good at keeping programs locked up tight. You have to run their programs in their environment. Simply put, technology already exists for what you desire if you create this language. You don't have to worry about photocopying. Someone would have to either decompile your program and look at the MagicScript. Guess what? That still happens. You'll have to live with it.

  4. Rapid spell execution. Computers can do hundreds of commands a second. Probably a lot more. Sure, there is the physics aspect of slow execution if you use metal slime to augment your magic ink, but can your wizards do that many spells? Once again, spells are a "baby language" running on inefficient processors with incredibly limited memory. It's like trying to run Minecraft on the NASA computers used to send the man to the moon. If we ignore the differences in languages and machine code... the machine can't run it. Our technology allows us to do this stuff at much faster speeds than the people of the 1800's.

Here's a story from my differential equations class when the professor was talking about numerical methods and using computers (I think regarding Hoover dam, but the name was never said) to illustrate this issue:

People would be working on the dam calculations every day. They'd spend a whole day doing Euler's method on the equations. They'd have three teams working separately on the same math. At the end of the day, they'd compare the results. If two matched, they kept them. If none of them matched, they'd scrap the work and start over again the next day. Now, I can do those same calculation within a few minutes on this PC.

Just make a similar argument regarding magic. Simply put, humans are inefficient, but computers are efficient and they only make mistakes when people make mistakes. Otherwise, they do what you tell them to do.

Now of course, you'll argue "well, I don't have this tech in my world". Well then guess what? You'll get pirates. You're asking about how to secure pdf's you sent via email. I don't even need a photocopier. I can hit forward.

Closing Remarks

I don't know a whole lot about turing machines, but it wouldn't surprise me if your spells are just turing machines and automata, which are computer science concepts with no relation to metal men (automatons). As a result, integrating them into computers feels natural.

To summarize the advantages once more:

  1. longer spell lengths

  2. rapid execution

  3. advances in computing capabilities

  4. existing security frameworks

  5. easier to write and easier to edit

What modern wizard wouldn't want and enjoy such advantages?

If you want spells that can be used outside of the computer, just have a server that produces programs that interact with the server and produce 3D graphical user interfaces for people to use in real life. So basically a floating magic interface to use spells. People could even make hotkeys for them or somehow interface it with verbal commands. or for that matter, make the server generate magic staffs that work with the spells. Or make magic staffs that are also computerized to run the spells? Java was originally a software to make it easier to put code on various appliances (no joke, it was originally designed for your toaster) so I don't see why MagicScript couldn't be any different. It was to augment the process of creating magic staffs and then it evolved into a full-blown desktop computer programming language.

  • $\begingroup$ I am informed that Steam has been cracked (though I have never observed it personally). $\endgroup$ – Stackstuck Apr 21 '19 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Stackstuck but it is probably a lot harder to do then a console or disk game. Regardless the fundamental principle of security is that nothing is ever secure. The only secure information in the universe is information that does not exist and will never exist. Otherwise someone will eventually break into it... even if they are an archeologist 1000 years from now. My point was merely to state that "acceptable" infrastructure currently exists. $\endgroup$ – user64742 May 6 '19 at 2:22

Apply the proof of work process during the transaction process.

Basically, when the person buys the rune it requires them to give something to the person who's providing the rune (other than just payment) - this should be something that magically allows said person to activate the rune. Without this binding process, it's not possible to activate the rune.

This also allows the buyer to resell the original rune, re-binding the rune to the new purchaser. Copies of the rune simply don't contain the same original binding process ingrained into the rune, and as such can't be bound or activated.

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    $\begingroup$ Alternatively, without the buying the binding spell to use the rune, it turns your Rainbow Fireball into a spell that doesn't work OR better yet mocks the user for not purchasing a legal copy (a popular tactic in DRM from coders feeling particularly mischievous). Given all the fun that could be had with this, it could be possible to say Rainbow Fireball without the Binding spell becomes exploding ruins. Anyone who works with DRMs will tell you that digital pirates are truly history's greatest monster and they got what they deserved. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Jul 25 '17 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking of sending a strand of your hair to open an account on the shop. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 25 '17 at 22:34

Why not make the runes free and charge for the ink? Anyone would be able to copy the runes, but there would be no effect unless they were drawn with the specific magic ink necessary. I think it would be easier to prevent people copying your ink manufacturing process than copying a drawing, especially when everyone has phone cameras and pcs.


Hidden Layer

Just say a rune consists of two layers. One, that uniquely identifies the spell as what it is and that can easily be understand by everyone and another hidden layer, that does the actual work.

You compared it to program code. It's the same mechanic. Image the visible layer as button.

Press me to create a rainbow colored fireball

Everybody knows exactly what happens by using it, but "nobody" can copy it without some knowledge of the algorithm behind it, which would be a hidden layer in your case.


Invisible ink

Same as above, only with a second, invisible ink on the same layer.



Image you want to summon a demon. The Pentagon is a well known symbol often refered to it. So, what everyone can see/read is a pentagon with some more symbols to further clarify which demon the user is about to summon.

But if you copy it 1:1 it won't work, because something is invisible and couldn't be copied. In this case a simple circle around the Pentagon, hidden on a second layer or with invisible ink.


I don't see how a small community like you're describing would even work with any analogs to the real world. If only 100 people/country understand magic (rather than know/use it), the number of people who know of magic is probably only in the thousands/country.

I don't think magical iTunes/Steam work here, the convenience and/or relative low cost wouldn't be available because of the small size of the market. I don't think DRM as we know it would be around for the same reason. I think the market will be solved by raising the price of the transfer of information (like guilds and apprenticeships requiring investments of years of time on the part of their lower members), or the culture of the magical community will change to a culture of honor (with violent revenge becoming the social norm) since rule of law in such a small and decentralized community isn't strong enough to enforce copyright.

I think solving the problem as you intended, since your main objection seems to be that the runes can't be black boxed like software is IRL, would be to enforce things on the side of the user. For example, have a customer accept a EULA that magically compels compliance before transferring the product. Or maybe have the laws of the magical community itself (including copyright law) be a geas. If such a thing is possible (it is a pretty stock fantasy trope), it would solve the problem of rule of law in such a small community. Perhaps this will still have a cycle of escalation with more precise contract terms and more clever rules lawyering, but it does go around a lot of the previous problems you and others have raised. The product does not need to be encrypted or otherwise black boxed, there is no remote access or authentication required, and there is no need for biometrics.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE Algid! Interesting take on the question. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jul 25 '17 at 12:00

Classic secure communication is 3 fold. Something you know, something you have, and something public.

The Runes emailed to you are the public part.

Something you know is maybe a personal rune. This may have been assigned to you when you became a customer.

Something you have may be a magical wand. This wand contains in itself a rune-writing or rune-adapting spell, and wards against tampering. The wand when activated modifies a set of drawn runes in specific ways.

When we sell a spell to someone, we sell it as an augmentation to their personal rune. They write both their personal rune, and the runes of the spell.

Then they use their registered wand to mutate the runes. This mutation is basically a decryption step.

The mutation is designed to both create and destroy the written spell at the same time. The decrypted spell is, ideally, not visible to anyone; maybe spell first shrouds the spell in invisibility before it does its effect.

On top of this, the wand's spell also self-mutates its internal script: it counts down. When its count hits zero, you have to purchase a new one from your vendor.

Now I can sell you spells. They are useless to anyone but you.

You can take your spell, add your personal rune, then cast them with your personal wand. This destroys the spell, and removes a count from your wand. (It could even remove a dynamic amount of count, depending on how "expensive" each use of the spell is supposed to be).

If you share your rune with others, they still need your wand.

If you share your wand with others and your rune, well, the new people are just delegated casters by you. The wand will run out of charge quicker.

This is similar to some electronic DRM systems.

Note that hacking a wand is going to be tempting; having a wand that self-destroys when damaged may be part of your security.

An important part is how this can evolve, culturally.

Simply handing someone a new way to cast spells that sucks as bad as the above is going to get a lot of backlash. So we'll do a just so story.

"Back in the day", writing partial spells in wands was one way to make casting faster. You'd store many copies of the spell in the wand, and finish it with external runes (sometimes 1, sometimes more). Then you'd activate the combined spell. Doing so was considered the only reasonably safe way to mass store magical runes; a wand with full spells within it could go off by accident! And writing complete spells on paper is just asking them to be stolen and used against you.

With the two of them, you can have a fast reasonably secure casting system.

Wizards might add in an additional step, where you add in a personal rune to finish the spell, preventing others from stealing their wand and using the spells within it. The wand contains partial spells, your scrolls contains partial spells, and your head contains which additional rune you need to finish off the triplicate.

The new technology is an extension of this, with the habits of wizards of old modified to produce a magical rights management infrastructure. Its resemblance to the old personal security of personal wands and spells made it initially acceptable to purchasers.

Possibly the company might have started off making your wand for you. You'd specify which runes to embed in the wand, and they'd micro-etch a few 1000 of them finer than you could yourself (assuming a given set of runes can be used exactly once).

Other companies might do mass rune-paper printing, or maybe you'd keep that secret yourself.

Then they'd offer you wands with new partial spells and let you write your own runes.


Make rune designs that are very difficult to copy by hand and don't photocopy well, so that the only easy way to reproduce them is to print them from your file. Think intricate designs, slight variations in colors, very small dots, etc. Ideally you would also have inks that look identical visually, so that you can't tell which parts are which kinds of ink just by looking it at. (Maybe some ink in the design is magical and some is normal?) Then you protect your files used to print in the usual way, or only let them print directly from your website, and each rune can only be printed once.

It won't ever be impossible to make illegal copies, but if you make it difficult to copy and easy and cheap to buy from you, most people will just pay for the spells.


I didn't notice either of these approaches elsewhere, so here you go:

Craft a binding contract as a part of the purchase agreement.

Person rips you off, their heart stops. Or, perhaps, they find themselves compelled to send you the money for the spell. Whatever payload you want, they have to agree to the effect before. Note that this could be part of a key scheme as described elsewhere, so only those with this active effect can use the pattern.

The spell could target the device making a copy, instead, and blow that up all Black ICE style.

Erase the effect on use

Now, it would bear noting that this would mean such spells were single use, but having part of the spell also delete all copies would go a long way to solving your problem. Depending on how you want everything to work, this could be vulnerable to clever editing, but that is analogous to cracking software.

Of course, there is magic in this world, so it's just as valid to state "Nope: it's just impossible. It's magic. Deal." (The Great Panjandrum decreed no copying, spell copiers work using some arcane principle that doesn't allow unauthorized copies, grand hosts descend on copyright violators, etc.)


From Unsong: Chapter 2: Arise to Spiritual Strife:

Replace "Name of God" with Runes, etc. Also, coincidentally, they have magic on scrolls as well. (This was not a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence.)

“Whenever you use a protected Name of God,” I continued “UNSONG agents with the Sentinel Name tattooed above their ear, and the Names involve tattooed on their foreheads, can track your location. In practice they rarely do, because a million people do that every day and they don’t have a million agents or a million jail cells to put people in. But if a dozen people use all sorts of Names in the same spot every day, they know it’s a place where singers hang out and then if they’re bored then they come and raid you. This is probably what happened in Colorado.”


Personally customized runes

Instead of making a rune that says "The caster of this rune grows a beard", you make a rune that says "If Bob casts this rune, Bob grows a beard."

For runes with a known caster but an unknown target, you make a rune that says something like "If Bob casts this rune, a fireball appears at a location of Bob's choice."

  • $\begingroup$ What if the spell was supposed to be cast on something else not yet decided? Like a homing fireball, or any other spell essentially is a combat magic. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 26 '17 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Vylix Does that look better? $\endgroup$ – isaacg Jul 26 '17 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ Yep. It is better $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 26 '17 at 5:49

Take a page from Grossman's the Magicians: spells must account for place, time, caster's particulars (gender, mood, life history), planetary motions, star positions, ...

So yes, customers get a program that runs, but only in a particular place, for about 20 minutes. Before or after or somewhere else, results vary, perhaps catastrophically.

Now, you're not selling DRM'd "goods"; you're selling a service: spell compilation. In the real world, service-based business models work much better for the digital.

In the Magicians universe, this service would be illegal, dangerous, and held in horrified contempt, like trafficking in children or weapons on the Darknet in our world.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, more like weapons trafficking, sorta. 'Cause untrained magic is dangerous to everyone, not 'cause it's a weapon, IIRC. $\endgroup$ – Malady Jul 26 '17 at 15:47

Commonly useful magic is free, it's the custom jobs that cost money.

Much like real world software, magic that everyone would find useful is available for free because sooner or later someone will do it pro bono. As for operating systems, so for Cure Light Wounds.

But if you are a businessman, and you need something done that is rather specific and/or unusual, the magic script you need may not exist. So you contact the magic shop, explain your needs, pay for it, then they do the work and email you the magic script you need.

In this case, the magic is inherently safe from piracy because only the paying customer wants it.


Paper runes are the past. Now, the best magic engineers in our Seattle research center have succeeded in creating a new chip that mimics rune writing.

You're in a cave and a giant ogre stand in front of you - threatening you with his giant club. You take out your magic scroll and... Wait, no more paper? (copyright: BlueWizard). Not any more.

No more "Where is a piece of paper?". No more "Wait, was it a ACH or a USH to complete this rainbow fireball?". No more "Ouch, yes, it was an USH".

Join us now on Amarune and buy the new Rundle Paperwhite.

Doing magic has never been this easy

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    $\begingroup$ As clever and imaginative as this is, I don't think it really answers the question, which is about preventing piracy. Welcome to WorldBuilding, though! $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jul 25 '17 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ @F1Krazy Thank you. Well, in fact I think this is the only way to prevent piracy. You cannot prevent people from reproducing an image they see, so the only way to succesfully force people not to reproduce it is activating the rune without actually seeing it. The idea of sealing the rune inside a closed paper is similar, but is not applicable to digitally delivered contents (since when you "print" it you can see it, even before sealing it). So the only way to accomplish it is by using a proprietary device that makes the user use the magic without seeing it (so no copy and control over uses) $\endgroup$ – frarugi87 Jul 25 '17 at 8:42

You can use a MAGICAL RSA.

The spells you deliver to your customers are customized for them. The customization process involves the customer giving some sort of "Public" rune that matches with their other "secret" rune. The secret rune is used to activate the spell and is a closely guarded secret.

The trick would be in creating a rune script that will fall apart when any one rune is modified in that script (like some sort of equilibrium mechanic)... or fail catastrophically.

It would be also cool to see the lengths that people would go to, in order to protect their activation runes. Some may not even activate them in public, where others would do so carefully.

It also gives a way of sharing spells amongst a group or a family where they all share the same activation rune.

  • $\begingroup$ You can give away the "secret" rune in a sharing website, like torrent. How this can prevent that? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 25 '17 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Vylix - The scheme described is also called Public Key Cryptography. If you give away your secret key, then anyone can send out stuff in your name, essentially impersonating you. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Zeitlin Jul 25 '17 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @JeffZeitlin true, but what prevents you from creating a fake account for the sole purpose of getting a secret key to share publicly? Granted... if someone goes to that much trouble then you just take them to court. $\endgroup$ – user64742 Jul 25 '17 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Typhon - If it's trivial to generate a public/private key pair, then yes, it's a potential problem, and all you can do is take the person who originally purchased the rune (and presumably leaked it) to court. If it's difficult - or expensive - to generate a key pair, and if it's used in the society for more than just purchases at the runestore, then there's a whole lot more for the key owner to lose by publishing his private key. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Zeitlin Jul 25 '17 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ What Knarf said, except: Your private key IS YOUR TRUE NAME! (Which is to a mage a cross between their SSN and Credit Card information...) Share it? Sure you can, but you'd better trust the person you share it with 100%. Wife, family? Sure. Best friend? Maybe. Anybody else? No way! Therefore your mages MIGHT share it, but it won't go very far. $\endgroup$ – docwebhead Jul 26 '17 at 19:02

Give your designs away and ask for donations. You have a small group that even believes in magic, and creating new runes is hard work. Presumably, a large portion of that community values your work and would support it voluntarily. So don't even attempt to restrict copies. Instead, make your work available for free and ask for donations so you can continue your work. You could also ask people to donate to your development of a particular rune and then make it available once you've raised enough cash.

There's tons of precedent for this model working. Many browser extensions and apps are free and then ask for a donation. Lots of people raise money for a purpose by providing a service and then asking for donations (car washes by students, bake sales for charities, charity bundles of Steam where you name your price). Kickstarter and Gofundme are both full of people that voluntarily give money to support a cause they believe in.

So don't waste a bunch of effort protecting your work. If you're providing a valuable service, then ask for donations, and people will likely pay more than you'd have charged of their own free will.

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    $\begingroup$ Since I read Pere's answer, I'm thinking about open-source spells and free spells. This might be an interesting plot, but now I must think whether the market is rich enough to support the author (they are small community, and dwindling in numbers) $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 25 '17 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix maybe they do it as a hobby for discretionary income. Or maybe they are in a country with a really low cost of living. Or maybe all the magic users are rich (plausible enough) and can afford to spend a lot of money on new spells all the time. $\endgroup$ – Kat Jul 25 '17 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Vylix you probably don't even have to explain it if you don't want to. Nobody is going to question how the website stays in business when you have a character hop on it to buy a spell. $\endgroup$ – Kat Jul 25 '17 at 22:40

It's clear that you need a

magical script copyright agency !

in the real world, copyright is enforced entirely and totally by the action of legal bodies, civil actions, and industry-national pressure groups. (A great example is the "DOC" system in France - the notion that nobody worldwide is "allowed' to call anything other than Champagne, Champagne: surprisingly this actually happens.)

So, much in the tradition of Time Lords, etc, you need a magical enforcement agency, for magical copyrights.

Technology is of zero help in enforcing copyrights, in the real world and the magical.


You could possibly bind the rune to the customer. Essentially, only he/she could use it, and it is useless to others.


TL;DR : Use the same techniques used to prevent copyrighted code copying

You could do it the same way some programmers prevent their code from being copied and reused by looking at the sources. To do so, they crypt it, add some useless code, or unintuitive design. You could use a similar process in the runes to prevent understanding it and so, reproducing it. You could also require the use of a specific tool to activate an encrypted rune, preventing the "source rune" from being seen and copied. It's not a perfect solution though, it may limit copy of the rune, but the most motivated persons could still analyse the rune to find its source and then reproduce it for their own benefit. But no copyright infringement preventing mechanic is perfect IMO

Or, you could add some sort of "authentication" part to the rune, like some sort of "Blood related QR code", but this second suggestion is already in a ton of answers.


First, lets establish that magic is "magic". Second, rather than think of this as similar to DRM and piracy, think of it as a reloadable credit card.

Each spell, because it can be used by anyone, has its own portion of power to use. Once used, the code no longer works unless the supply is refreshed. Any copy of the code could pull from that supply, but you control the supply. So when you generate the code, a portion of magic is set aside for this rune. It magicly travels with the code wherever it goes, but could not be duplicated by non-magical means. It is linked with the code. The information about the physical rune is stored in the ethereal magic "smart battery" that can only be drawn on by the code it was linked to.

Also note that this is similar to a human with a soul/consciousness. You can make a literal copy of the body, but the soul is intrinsic to the body and can't be used by another and cannot be replaced once extinguished.


In the real universe, objects in the quantum realm cannot be copied. This is the no-cloning theorum.

What if magic is a lot like quantum mechanics? We could make banknotes that are not counterfitable by using 20 quantum traps in the note — one of the first papers explaining quangum encryption uses this example and shows that such a bill can be verified but not copied.

Note that it’s a theorum, not an axiom. You can do the same: don’t simply state that it’s impossible to copy them because that’s a law of nature. Rather, it emerges as a consequence of more fundimental laws.

An alegory: you need a digital signature from an authority to submit the work order to the god that manipulates reality. But it’s not a digital signature like we use today, but a quantum signature which cannot be copied.


Assuming rune works in a way similar to a circuit for magic power, how about drawing the rune using the magical ink, but once it is dry painting over it with regular ink that looks the same as the magical one.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The ink is already magical, and the delivery is via internet (email). Apologize for the edit in question. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Jul 24 '17 at 21:09

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