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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 - Reinstate Monica 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

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So anyone can activate Runic Magical scripts but if you restrict the working so that only those with power can successfully craft them in the first place then people could copy as much script as they like and it won't do anyone but an actual practitioner who understands the code they're trying to pirate any good at all. It doesn't remove the problem but it does reduce it markedly.

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Use the magical equivalent of a self-extracting archive using a password protection based on the identity of the buyer. Basically the source for the shell spell is in "plain text", but the actual spell purchased by the buyer is compressed and encrypted as a data package.

When the spell is activated by an unauthorized user, it either:

  1. Stops the spell with no effect
  2. Produces a copyright notice with your website (written in the air of course)... "If you would like to use Spell: FIREBALL, please buy a copy keyed to your identity at www.iwantmagic.com"

The shell spell is able to seek out specific keyed info. For example, if you want to sell a "family plan" (for more of course), then the shell script is able to identify the specific ancestral traits — the more broad the traits, the higher the expensive in the purchase.

Such a magic shell program would allow users to print the spells from their personal computer without special ink, and it would only work for them.

But there could still be the potential for piracy. What if the buyer contracted your competitor to write a spell to decode your spell -- and since the buyer is authenticated all the second spell would need to do is capture the decoded version of the spell. You might want to add addition security to prevent this from happening by having sub-spells that watch out for copycat routines and corrupt the primary spell before it is copied.

You could even layer the primary spell in multiple levels of shell programs. Doing so could protect it using various conditions, such as:

  1. Validate User
  2. Validate Location (this spell can only be used in North America, for a worldwide license, please contact www.iwantmagic.com and ask for an upgrade)
  3. Validate Safety Conditions (fireball target = human?... no no no)

But same question applies as for traditional software protection: do the resources required for protecting your software outweigh the value of the code its protecting?

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Add a tracer lock on the spell which prevents activation until payment has been made. This is essentially putting a curse on the spell that acts like a glass case. Paying for the spell breaks the curse for that person alone. The words of the spell itself could be copied all over the place, but if the caster hasn't broken the curse, it's just words on a page.

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