The photo in the tourist magazine featured two European men sporting only their underwear—tiger-striped ones—with the Ta Prohm temple in the background, said Chau Eng Kerya, director of the Department of Tourism Development for the Apsara Authority. It looked like an ad, she said, but since it was in Japanese, she could not be sure.
In any case, the image, not the text, was the issue. Chau Eng Kerya contacted the magazine, and the advertisement was not published again. For Cambodians, “Angkor is a sacred and a living site; people go there on pilgrimage” and people should not degrade it, she said.
Such an incident shows how crucial it is for Cambodia to control the use of its monuments’ names and images, said Chau Eng Kerya. One step in achieving this would be a law stating the country’s ownership of Angkor temples and its right to regulate the use of images of the temples, she said.
The regulation could be created by law, which would back existing guidelines issued by the Apsara Authority, the government body that oversees the temples.
Although officials and experts have not yet started discussing the exact requirements of a law or a set of guidelines, the requirements would likely focus on photographs or video images to be used for commercial uses—such as a feature film or an advertisement—or images that could be seen to portray the Angkor temples in an unbecoming manner, Chau Eng Kerya said.
When asked if this law would violate or limit the freedom of the press from which Cambodian journalists and readers benefit, Chau Eng Kerya said, “This is not about control. This is about protecting Angkor from inappropriate use.”
News organizations such as the British Broadcasting Corp and CNN have filmed footage at the Angkor temples, and they understand that signing a contract with the Apsara Authority is to define how the footage will be used, she said.
Usage control is part of the protection that governments must set up for their monuments, said Azedine Beschaouch, scientific secretary of the International Coordination Committee of Angkor, which starts its plenary session today in Siem Reap.
The two-day meeting is sponsored by France and Japan, in cooperation with the Cambodian government and the ICC Secretariat, which is managed by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Topics on the agenda include current restoration projects in the Angkor Archaeological Park, environmental programs and measures for the prevention of historical artwork looting and trafficking.
One aspect of site preservation is to physically maintain and restore monuments, which is the work of architects and engineers, said Beschaouch. The other aspect concerns the use of these monuments, from planning and managing visitors on site to policies regarding special events and the utilization of the names and images of a monument, he said.
This part involves issues that go well beyond laws, said Michel Verrot, an architect with the monument division of the French Ministry of Culture and an adviser to the Apsara Authority.
“It takes reflection and especially conviction because slips occur progressively,” he said.
“For example in a cathedral, you first allow a concert of sacred music, then operas, then comic operas; and then a concert of light music. It ends up with a rock concert because, when the request for the rock concert arrives, the organizer says, ‘Why not? You allowed such and such a concert last week,’” Verrot said.
“I actually like rock music. But there are people using this [cathedral] who are believers and, even if my faith is different than theirs, I must respect it and not let them be hurt by what happens at the place where they come to pray,” he said.
Guidelines for cultural sites must be specified to determine the use of name and image, the type of events allowed, and a fee scale, he said. However, they must not be too specific, said Verrot.
“By definition, what is not prohibited is authorized,” and makes people look for loopholes, he said.
The filming of “Two Brothers,” the 1920s tale of two tigers shot earlier this year at Angkor by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, gave Apsara the opportunity to set up such guidelines, Verrot said.
“The Pathe team arrived with an honest respect of the site, willing to follow any required procedure. It was not always easy for them, because [Apsara] is not an organization with 20 or 30 years of experience,” unlike monument authorities of some countries, he said.
Apsara was able to come up with a contract form that specifies authorized use—for instance, a movie to be shown in cinemas and on television, said Verrot. A production company wanting to promote the movie by selling Angkor T-shirts or other merchandise would need a separate agreement, he said.
The Apsara Authority asks news media organizations to submit their request five days in advance, she said. “And we don’t ask for money” from the news media for admission to the temples and for permission to take photographs or video footage, she said.
Some monuments have become impossible to regulate, said Beschaouch, a former chairman of the World Heritage Committee who was instrumental in getting Angkor on the prestigious World Heritage List.
With all the travelers who, for decades, have painted and photographed the pyramids in Egypt, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York, one can’t start controlling where and how their images are used, he said. These monuments have long since become part of the public domain, he said.
Twenty or 30 years from now, monuments such as Angkor Wat will have been photographed so much that it will no longer be possible to regulate the use of their image, Beschaouch said.
But in the meantime, developing countries, which desperately need funds to maintain their historical sites, should be entitled to benefit from the sales of commercial products made out of their monuments, he said.
One should look at monument-use control as one would look at a copyright on a book, Beschaouch said. “One would not blame an author for claiming rights on the translation of his book, granting them for free if he wants to.” If a monument is part of a country’s national heritage, that country should have rights over it, said Beschaouch.
Countries’ opinions vary on this matter, he said. Wealthy nations with powerful media and publishing industries tend to reject the principle of cultural-property rights, Beschaouch said.
In legal terms, “Works of architecture, such as buildings and monuments, can be regarded as intellectual properties and can, in principle, be protected under the law of copyright,” said Wend Wendland of the World Intellectual Property Organization.
However, copyright protection is limited in time, she said. This is why WIPO has been involved in a program to determine “whether or not it is appropriate to protect traditional cultural expressions that may not, or may no longer, qualify for intellectual property protection,” Wendland said.
“But even before one is told that it is prohibited by law, it’s a moral commitment to ask a country for authorization to use a historical site or its image,” said Beschaouch. “That’s what people must be reminded of. That it’s not a matter of protecting an image—it’s a matter of preventing illicit use in the moral sense of the word” by respect for the national heritage of a country, he said.
Usually, advertisers and companies will drop inappropriate use of monuments’ names or image amiably and without legal recourse, Verrot said.
Still, it takes a government structure to monitor this and to contact the parties when this happens, he said. The Apsara Authority now has the expertise to assume this role but it needs support, Verrot said.
When French authorities tried to obtain a copyright for the Chateau of Versailles, they discovered that the words “Chateau” and “Versailles” had already been claimed; so the government had to settle for “Royal Domain of Versailles,” Verrot said.
The Apsara Authority has asked Unesco for assistance to make sure that something similar does not happen here, said Chau Eng Kerya. Cambodia would not want to lose the right to the names Angkor Wat or Bayon in its material, she said.