Egypt's MPs are expected to pass a law requiring royalties be paid whenever copies are made of museum pieces or ancient monuments such as the pyramids.Although perhaps we should be reassured by the proviso that "... the law would apply to full-scale replicas of any object in any museum in Egypt" (my emphasis). The idea seems to be that, in order to raise money for the up-keep of Pharaonic antiquities, anyone who makes a profit out of a 1:1 reproduction of a monument such as the Pyramids or the Sphinx (or any of myriads of smaller items) should share that profit with the body maintaining the original antiquities. The emphasis seems to be on hotels and casinos and the like, although presumably sellers of reproductions will also be affected. Non-profit users will need to seek government permission, but may not have to pay anything.
Perhaps the strangest twist:
Zahi Hawass, who chairs Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the BBC the law would apply in all countries.Can this be so? Do I hear someone murmuring "unenforceable"? I'm sure this will be leveraged against archaeologists who already have trouble getting permits to dig if they infringe various other rules of the SCA, but would a seller of reproduction statuettes in New York or London be subject to this law? Can you imagine this being enforced in Beijing? Maybe I misunderstand the law, and I have no experience digging or otherwise working in Egypt, but it seems strange to me.
More to the point, while I have every sympathy with the need to raise money to protect and preserve antiquities, and while I can understand that one way to do this is to make the antiquities themselves profitable, I don't think this should be done by abusing the concept of copyright. Already several countries with rich ancient archaeology impose a supposed copyright on photographs of archaeological finds taken in the country, although this has been hard to enforce overseas. The repercussions of such laws on publications and especially teaching are unfortunate--even the need to ask permission before publishing a reproduction (or posting it, for example, on Flickr) is stifling too many cool initiatives to keep the love of the ancient world alive. Do I hear someone whispering "world heritage"?
I'm tempted to go off right now and create a "full-scale replica" of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Second Life, just to see who'd like to test that particular combination of legal repercussions.
I should stress, however, that this post is the ill-informed opinion of one seasonally-fatigued blogger, and not that of the site itself or its administrators. I've not been able to track down an official statement re this putative law on the websites of the Egyptian Government, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (whose website seems not to exist), nor that of its director Zahi Hawass. Anyone better informed (or with more mature opinions) on this topic than I, please leave a comment.