Can Egypt Copyright the Pyramids?

Steven Stanek in Cairo, Egypt
for National Geographic News
January 15, 2008

If they get their way, Egyptian officials will make it illegal to produce exact replicas or sell images of the Pyramids and other recognizable antiquities in the country, though such regulations are unlikely to be enforced internationally, some legal experts say.

Under the proposed law, manufacturers and retailers worldwide would have to obtain special permission—and in some cases pay fees—to Egypt to sell products relating to such prized icons as the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the mask of Tutankhamun.

Some 120 antiquities would be protected under the new law, Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told National Geographic News.

Hawass, a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, has championed a push to reclaim Egyptian artifacts scattered around the world. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

(Related: "Egypt Asks for Loans of Artifacts Held Abroad" [April 30, 2007].)

The law holds that no exact-scale replica can be made: For instance, if an object is two inches (five centimeters) tall, a product of the same dimensions cannot be made without permission. But a three-inch (six-centimeter) replica would be acceptable, Hawass said.

Lawyers who drafted the bill also said they plan to seek royalties from those who use images of antiquities commercially in photography, television, and movies—but not those images used for educational purposes.

Funds generated by the proposed law would go toward the preservation of historic sites, Hawass said.

"We want to protect Egyptian antiquities. We want to protect our values. This is the most important thing," he said.

No Leaving Las Vegas

Hawass and his legal advisers singled out countries such as China and the United States, where they say some companies and museums have made millions in the sale of replicas and images of Egyptian ancient objects.

But the bill will not target the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, which boasts a high-tech, pyramid-shaped structure modeled after the Egyptian pyramids.

Continued on Next Page >>


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