Getting ‘Gypped

Drawing: Pyramid & CashThe government of Egypt plans to pass a law that would require royalty payments on reproductions of museum pieces or national monuments such as the pyramids and the Sphinx.

According to Zahi Hawass, chairman of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, this law would apply to all countries, and is needed to cover the costs of maintaining ancient sites.

From a BBC News article:

“Commercial use” of ancient monuments like the pyramids or the sphinx would also be controlled, he said.

“Even if it is for private use, they must have permission from the Egyptian government,” he added.

But he said the law would not stop local and international artists reproducing monuments as long as they were not exact replicas.

Let’s begin with the purpose of the royalty. I have a problem with the concept of preserving antiquities. How do you maintain a ruin? Do you restore it to its original glory, or keep it in a stasis of decay? Will the money fund restoration, or teams of expert workers skilled in the art of distressing buildings, like so many set designers at a Disney theme park?

If the proposed royalty covers only exact replicas, then what incentive would anyone have to make one? What constitutes an exact replica? If someone created a reproduction of the Pyramids at Giza, would they be subject to royalty payments if they made it as it looks now, or when it was built — painted white with a golden capstone? If I built Sphinxes with noses, would I therefore not have to pay up?

Beyond the law’s obvious lack of enforceability, the precedent set would be lunacy. Other countries would demand royalties for their antiquities: Italy would receive royalties for likenesses of the Coliseum, and the United Kingdom would get paid for Stonehenge reproductions. I suppose America could get royalties for poseable Andy Rooney inaction figures.

Egypt’s attempt at demanding reproduction royalties on antiquities from anyone in the world reminds me of one of the ultimate funny lines from Monty Python: “I think we should tax all foreigners living abroad.”

I’m still laughing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.