Wednesday 16 April 2008

£350million owed for "looted" cultural artefacts

A documentary film scheduled for release soon will raise key issues over Article 11 of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on cultural objects taken across borders according to Melford Ita ("Africa: The Crown Affair"). He makes an argument that the Nigerian government is owed £350million in back dated royalties for the use of IP rights from colonial looters, following his take on an editorial alluding to Markets and Investments grappling with the interpretation of a copyright law with the British Museum surrounding images of the Queen Idia mask.

Mr Ita's logic (copied below) in coming to his royalty figure of £350million is not beyond reproach. However, his article, its style and its conclusion are indicative of the scale of the issue and the emotion which surrounds it.

"... to calculate the revenue that might have been derived from these artefacts, one would start from 1973. Given a 5-year non-exclusive licence at £250 plus VAT, such a licence would be up for renewal every five years. Since 1973, to date 7 such licences would have been issued for each individual use of the Idia mask, i.e. 2008-1973 = 35years. 35yrs/5yr licence = 7. To appreciate the enormity of this abuse of copyright law, £250 x 7 = £1,750.00 in reproduction fees from the Queen Idia mask over a 35-year period. Based on a 5-year non-exclusive licence, if 50 people applied to use the image of the photograph over a 35-year period, the Queen Idia mask alone would have earned £1,750 x 50 = £87,500 since 1973.

The number of looted Nigerian cultural artefacts in the BritishMuseum and other museums worldwide is estimated at 4000. Therefore, £87,500 x 4000 = £350 million, being the potential revenue for the use of images. This sum is devoid of future potential earnings, which should continue perpetually as long as there is demand for the use of images. This is a true case with documentary evidence highlighting a fraud that has gone unchallenged for so long."

Article 11 of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on cultural objects declares as illicit, “the export and transfer of ownership of cultural property under compulsion arising directly or indirectly from the occupation of a country by a foreign power.”

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