How Don Quixote’s Battles Predicted Piracy in the Digital Age

A Ripped-Off Version of Cervantes' Masterpiece Showed the Peril and Potential of New Printing Technology

Although Don Quixote wasn’t the first great novel (that honor belongs to the Tale of Genji, written by an 11th-century lady-in-waiting at the Japanese court), it was the first to do something important: capture a new world of print.

That world had begun when Johannes Gutenberg improved upon Chinese printing techniques and combined them with paper, itself an invention that had arrived from China via the Middle East and Arab-occupied Spain. (We still count paper in reams, from the Arabic rizma.)

These two inventions, brought together again in Northern Europe, encountered …