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Old August 12th, 2004, 10:57 PM   #1
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What isnt copyright these days

A friend of mine went to a national museum hosting a large Egyptian artifact show. I lent her my camera in order to take some pictures, but warned that they may not be allowed.
She also took a sketch pad to draw some if photography was a no-no.

Sure enough, she was shot down about the camera, but unbelievably, was not allowed to sketch any of the artifacts either. The reason they gave her was for copyright protection.

Copyright on 5000 year old mummies???

I'd appreciate if anyone could offer me some explanations as to what is going on behind the scenes, what they are afraid of, and the truth about why photography and even sketching isn't allowed. This photography ban only applies to the Egyptian section, you are allowed to shoot in the rest of the museum at your leisure.

And of course I'd love to know if there can really be a copyright on something thousands of years old...

Here is the exhibit:
http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/visit...ypt/index.html
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Old August 12th, 2004, 11:09 PM   #2
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Copyright may not be correct (the guard probably repeated what he was told to say). But the owner of the exhibit pieces has the right to restrict reproduction.
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Old August 12th, 2004, 11:13 PM   #3
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In my best hippe voice:
You can't own the past maaaaan. :)

Does sketching something count as reproduction? I understand the photography ban, and I believe the guard is just parroting what the bosses say, but not being allowed to draw something is just crazy. They obviously can't keep you from drawing it from memory. It really cheeses me off.
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Old August 12th, 2004, 11:37 PM   #4
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There is a banquet of reasons why museums impose such restrictions, particularly on special temporary exhibits...an increasingly popular device for attracting visitors. In the absence of good explanations (hard to come by from museum guards) people have the impression that museums just want to make an extra buck somehow. But that's not entirely the case, at least not in the sense that you may think.

Here in Chicago the museums, such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Chicago, continuously host special exhibits for which they charge a premium over their standard admission price. Tickets for the special exhibits nearly always list a time bracket for entrance. In this way the museum can control the flow of traffic and offer some degree of crowd control to ensure that everyone has time and space to see everything in the exhibit.

If the museum permitted people to take photos or plop down to make sketches it would be a disaster for such exhibits, which are often designed to be very linear -- start here, end there -- experiences. Traffic through the exhibit would grind to a halt during peak periods. Students would pitch camp with sketch pads and Starbucks cups all day. Visitors with disposable cameras would try to get "just the right" photo of displays, while other visitors would politely stop to help the shooters. As an example, I routinely see two or three tourists with cardboard cameras bring foot traffic on our Michigan Avenue bridge to a complete halt as they try to capture a Kodak moment.

Of course museums may also be observing certain reproduction restrictions. Many, if not most, items in such exhibits are on loan from other museums and private collections which might have imposed such restrictions as conditions of loan.

But my guess in the case you've described is that the museum was principally trying to control traffic flow.
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Old August 12th, 2004, 11:54 PM   #5
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Ah!
They control it the same way here, making you go in at certain time periods. Very interesting. This would explain the no sketching rule for special exhibits.
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Old August 13th, 2004, 07:51 AM   #6
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The museum is probably MORE than willing to sell you a $49.95 coffee table book that displays all the major exhibit artifacts so that you can sketch to your hearts content after you pony up at their gift shop. Everyone's got to make a dime or they can't afford to bring you such nice exhibits.
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Old August 13th, 2004, 10:10 AM   #7
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It has absolutely nothing to do with copyright law. The legal theory is very simple:

You're on their property, and as a condition of being on their property you have to obey their rules. One of their rules is no photographs or sketches (possibly to control traffic, possibly simply because they want to make their own money off of photos of the artifacts).

In any event, there's no federal copyright rights involved, it's all simple state-based property rights. They could not, for example, sue you for copyright infringement if you took a photograph or made a sketch. You are absolutely right that a 5000 year old item has no copyright protection whatsoever.

Of course if that item has been translated into any modern form, such as translated text, photographs, movies, etc., that modern work does enjoy protection, though the original is still public domain.
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Old August 13th, 2004, 10:53 AM   #8
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This is not to say that you can't later ask for special permission to sketch. Just that not just anybody can set up their pad and seat there. I've been to many museums and have seen lots of students sketching away, often in special prime positions. Presumably, they had made a case or were part of a course.
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Old August 13th, 2004, 12:41 PM   #9
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Also, if you want to make photos or videos call the Museum and see if you can get permission. If it's a "home" video that you don't intend to sell but merely show to friends, tell them you'll give them full credit. It's free advertising. Offer to come in very early or very late to stay away from prime traffic times. Go out of your way to make it easy for them. If you're a member of the museum it'd probably help, too.

Good luck.

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