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Egypt to attempt to copyright Pharaonic antiquities

Egypt to attempt to copyright Pharaonic antiquities

Egypt is considering copyrighting its ancient pharaonic antiquities, from the pyramids to scarab beetles in an attempt to get a cut from trinkets sold around the world, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said Thursday.
It was unclear whether such a copyright would be recognized internationally _ and Hawass said it would apply only on exact replicas of antiquities, including scale, meaning someone would have to build a full-scale replica of the giant pyramids for it to violate the copyright.
"If you (want to) build an exact copy of the Great Pyramid we will stop you," Hawass told The Associated Press.
The provision is part of a new draft antiquities law that Hawass has put before the Egyptian parliament that would also mandate life imprisonment for antiquities smugglers, an attempt to crack down on theft of Egypt's heritage.
Under the law, anyone seeking to make an exact replica of a copyrighted pharaonic artifact would have to seek permission _ and pay a fee to _ Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
"The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art makes replicas of the King Tut exhibit from 20 years ago and they are still selling it everywhere and Egypt gets nothing!" said Hawass, the SCA chairman.
The "Chinese are making lots of money selling (replicas of) our antiquities," he said, referring to the fact that many of the souvenirs sold to tourists in Egypt are actually made in China.
The draft bill comes amid recent complaints in Egyptian media about money being made by the pyramid-shaped Las Vegas Luxor casino in the United States.
But Hawass said Las Vegas' Luxor _ and other ancient Egyptian-themed parks and malls around the world _ would not be affected by the copyright law.
"It is a resort that doesn't look like anything from antiquity, it is a replica of imagination, I can't stop them from doing that," he said. Besides, "it is an ugly pyramid with fake hieroglyphics inside," he added.
The law will also cover images of the Pyramids, King Tutankhamun and several other famous sites around the country, whose use for commercial purposes would have to be permitted by the SCA, including a fee.
Egyptian lawyer Hossam Lutfi, an expert with the U.N.'s World Intellectual Property Organization, said the draft may be baffling since so far the term copyright has not been applied to cultural heritage because authors of the work in question are long gone.
However, UNESCO and Lufti's organization are trying to develop the idea _ which still hasn't won wide backing _ that a nation has the right to defend how its folklore and intangible heritage is used internationally.
"What we are defending is the integrity of the nation," Lufti said. "We are establishing this idea based on our right to bring protection to the expression of folklore."
Hawass, who became head of Egyptian antiquities in 2002, has achieved global prominence by appearing in a number of television specials heralding new Egyptology discoveries.
His media-savvy approach has helped his department acquire new funding, such as Egypt's new US$5 million (euro3.5 million) DNA testing lab, paid for by the Discovery Channel in exchange for exclusive rights to film the process of identifying the mummy said to be that of Queen Hatshepsut.
Hawass said he's offering other companies a similar deal in exchange for a second lab.
Jeffrey P. Weingart, lawyer with New York-based Thelen Ried Brown Raysman & Steiner LLP, said the scope of the new Egyptian draft bill is unclear "in terms what it seeks to prohibit and what exceptions apply."
"It's also unclear how a novel law such as this one would play in terms of international copyright treaties, enforcement and subject matter," Weingart, who has long dealt with copyright laws in the U.S., told The Associated Press.
"Anytime someone seeks to promote and profit from artistic or photographic expression, one walks a fine line between promoting its use on the one hand and protecting material on the other," cautioned Weingart.
The copyright proposal is part of a wider law whose main purpose is to protect the country's antiquities from smugglers by stiffening punishments. It would also increase penalties for building on archaeological sites.
The draft bill is the result of five years of consultations among lawyers, experts and Egyptologists here on ways to protect the monuments, Hawass said.
"The most important thing is that those who steal antiquities will be put in prison for good," he said.
The law calls for 5-year prison sentences for those building on archaeological sites, which until now were only minimally fined. There are 6,000 such cases pending in Egypt.
Rules would also change for dozens of foreign archaeological missions excavating sites in Egypt, which in the past were allowed to take 10 percent of their finds out of the country.
"I canceled that. I feel it is an honor for any for expert just to work in Egypt ... not to take things outside," Hawass said.


Updated : 2021-07-31 18:14 GMT+08:00