Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pyramids- property?

When the developed world pushed the developing countries to recognize their Intellectual Property rights, there was a come-back. The developing countries began thinking of propertyzing traditional knowledge or indigenous knowledge. Basically, they said, 'Ok, if we cannot produce generic drugs because of the TRIPs agreement, then we will also not allow you to use our traditional knowledge without paying.' So, in that spirit, now Egypt wants to copyright the pyramids. For a full story here.

Egypt has been a member of the WTO (World Trade Organization) since June 30, 1995. The TRIPs agreement that purports to regulate IP rights, specifically Article 12 on Terms of Protection for Copyright says here:

Whenever the term of protection of a work, other than a photographic work or a work of applied art, is calculated on a basis other than the life of a natural person, such term shall be no less than 50 years from the end of the calendar year of authorized publication, or, failing such authorized publication within 50 years from the making of the work, 50 years from the end of the calendar year of making.

I am not sure how this provision would affect Egypt's attempts to copyright the pyramids that really are classified as 'world wonders' and belong to the world, while also being a national treasure for that country. Would Egypt be in violation of the TRIPs? I am not an expert and would not know. But really this is the dilemma in IP. Where do you draw the line? Propertyzing everything would result in shrinking of the public domain. How do you define the borders of IP rights internationally and limit pirating of traditional and other knowledge. But are certain things simply not subject to 'propertization'?

For more on these issues see the work of Professor Madhavi Sunder.

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