Luther's 'Admonition to the Printers', Wittenberg (1525)

Source: Würtembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Theol.fol.1085, sheet 229 verso, Photographer: Finkbeiner

Luther's 'Admonition to the Printers', Wittenberg (1525), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,

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Chapter 1 Page 1


What do you mean by this, my dear Sirs ye
printers, / that one steals and publicly robs
the other of what is his, / and that you bring
ruin on yourselves in this way? Have you too
now become highway-men and thieves? or do you
imagine / that God will bless and nourish you /
by such evil pieces of work and tricks? I had
started writing the Postils for the period
from the Feast of the Epiphany to Easter, / when
suddenly a knave comes along / - it was the
typesetter / who lives on our toil - / and
steals my manuscript before I've even finished
it / and makes off with it / and has it printed
abroad, / thereby misprinting our sustenance and
work. / Well! God will see to it / that the
profit you make on this will just suffice / for
you to smear [tar] your shoes with it! / You are
a thief / and are before God obliged to make
restitution! Now, the damage might still be
sufferable, / were it not for the fact that they
handle my books so wrongly and infamously. For
what they do is to print these in such a hurry /
that when they come back to me, / I cannot
recognise my own books! / Here something has been
omitted, / there something is displaced, / there
again the wrong word is printed, / and everywhere
one sees a lack of revision. And they've also
learnt the trick / of printing Wittenberg at the
top of [the title-page of] several books, / which
were never produced in Wittenberg, nor have they
so much as alighted here. / These are fine knavish
tricks / with which to deceive the man in the
street, / because by the grace of God we are
well-known for taking great pains / and, as far as
it is in our power, / never allowing a book to
appear that isn't useful. Thus it is that avarice
and envy incite them to deceive people under the
cover of our name / and to ruin us. It is truly
unfair / that we do all the work and are expected
to spend our money on this, / just so that others
reap the profit and we are left with the loss. So
may everyone be warned about the Postils for the
last six Sundays / and just let them go to the
scrap-heap. / For I simply do not acknowledge them
as mine, / since when revising my works, I often
have to correct myself / what I have overlooked in
my manuscript and done wrongly, / so that my
manuscript copy [of these last postils] cannot be
relied upon. However, if someone still wants to
keep them, / may he amend and correct them in
accordance with the present copy. / For our [printer's]
type-face design is well known, / and readers should

[2nd column:]

go by this in order to distinguish counterfeit books
from the true ones. Although I for my part would be
happy / if I never had to publish any books, / since
in the end it just demands from me futile efforts
and work. For this reason, be warned, my dear printers / who
art so busy stealing and robbing! / Since you must
know / what St Paul said to the Thessalonians: /
"That no man go beyond and defraud his brother
in any matter: / because the Lord is the avenger of
all such." This passage will some day come to smite
you too. Even so, before that happens, such robbery
will not make you any richer, / for, as Solomon says:
"The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: /
but He blesseth the habitation of the just." And,
similarly, Isaiah: "Woe to thee that robbest / thou
shalt be robbed yourself." Shouldn't one printer be
able to show consideration to another out of Christian
charity / and wait for one or two months before
reprinting the other's work? However, if avarice is to
be encouraged more / and we Germans do want to be
beasts of prey, / then go ahead and run wild with your
avarice, / albeit not in God's name. / You
      will be duly brought to justice.
            May God grant that
                  you mend your
                        ways in time.
                              / Amen.

from Advent to Easter / with
a complete index, /which is
not in the other



Translation by: Luis Sundkvist


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