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Modern Heritage Observatory - Third National Meeting


The Modern Heritage Observatory reunited at the Arab Image Foundation’s premises for its third networking meeting, which focused on the legal aspects of cultural heritage preservation. Three lawyers were invited as speakers, to shed light on various intersections between the legal sphere and heritage. Lawyer and activist Nayla Geagea discussed her experience working on the Masrah Beirut case. Her presentation was a case study of an instance where cultural heritage actors formed a collective beyond institutions to work as a pressure group for passing new laws that would ensure the protection of heritage for its architectural as well as cultural and symbolic values. Maître Charbel Nassar presented an overview on copyright laws and issues by contrasting two different systems, the American on one hand and the French and Lebanese on the other. His presentation outlined the various branches of intellectual property detailing the definitions and nuances of each. Finally, Claudine Abdelmassih presented lawyer Mabel Tyan’s report on builtheritage laws. She presented an overview of the various governmental bodies responsible for the protection of built-heritage in Lebanon. The meeting closed with a Q&A session followed by a discussion.

The meeting featured three presentations:
1- Lawyer and activist Nayla Geagea discussed her experience working on the Masrah Beirut ‘s legal situation
2- Dr. Charbel Nassar presented an overview of copyright laws and related issues
3- Claudine Abdelmassih presented lawyer Mabel Tyan’s report on built heritage laws.
1. Masrah Beirut- Presentation by Nayla Geagea
Nayla Geagea discussed the legal situation of Masrah Beirut, drawing on her own experience of working on the legal aspects of its salvage. Following the announcement by the theater’s owners of their decision to sell the premises and the need to evacuate it, a group of activists and organizations formed a collective to work against the destruction of the theater. Masrah Beirut, the oldest theater in Beirut, was soon to be destroyed to make place for yet another tower block.
The collective approached the Ministry of Culture, requesting that the building be listed as a cultural heritage landmark as a first step towards preserving it. However, although this law could protect the building, it could not ensure that the building be used as a theater by its new owners. As such, the case engendered long debates on how to define preservation, and how cultural heritage actors should prioritize and decide what is more culturally valuable: the physical structure of a site, the function or both. Accordingly, the collective recognized the need for more in-depth investigation of the laws in order to find the optimal approach for protecting Masrah Beirut. With the current absence of laws for cultural heritage protection outside the archeological model, the collective agreed to resolve and adopt the international agreements that the Lebanese government had already signed, but which are not being implemented. As a result of Lebanon’s involvement in the UNESCO agreement for the protection of cultural heritage, for instance, three laws were passed. The first concerned the restructuring of the Ministry of Culture, and the creation of new departments within the ministry, the most important one being the arts and culture department. In Lebanon, the cultural and arts scene has been expanding exponentially independent of the Ministry of Culture which has remained static in comparison, resulting in a huge gap between the two. The second law concerned the Ministry’s affiliation with cultural organizations, such as the National Conservatory and the National Museum. Finally the third law, the cultural preservation law and so the most relevant in terms of heritage, broadened the definition of cultural property, no longer limiting it to the  building’s architectural value alone, but also encompassing its symbolic and cultural value. As these laws have already been passed, Geagea asserted that in order to have a long-term solution, cultural heritage actors should work as pressure groups to push the Ministry to implement these laws. She sees this as an opportunity to take a different approach with the Ministry, where instead of being in conflict with governmental structures or ignoring them completely, civil society actors can cooperate with the Ministry whilst maintaining a professional distance.
2. Copyright Laws & Intellectual Property- Presentation by Lawyer Charbel Nassar
Dr. Nassar discussed the different aspects of copyright laws by contrasting the American system on one hand, and the Lebanese and French systems on the other, as the terminology, notions and definitions are nuanced. In the American system the term copyright reflects more or less economic rights that may be not, in some circumstances, directly linked to the author personally, however in the Lebanese and French system it is termed the author’s right (droit de l’auteur) and it is therefore more personal, being strictly linked to the person who created the work.
Intellectual property is divided into two branches: literary and artistic property, and industrial property. Literary works in addition to visual and performance arts fall under the first category, whilst technical inventions of practical but no artistic value fall under the second. In between these two lies industrial-­‐designs , including all visual elements used for commercial identities. (logos etc.). Under the literary and artistic property laws in Lebanon, the “economic rights” (Droits patrimoniaux), reflect the business rights of the author, as he/she has the right to sell those rights . However, the laws respect the authorship of the work, and even the author himself cannot assign his/her authorship. In addition, even if the work is sold, it should be respected; as such the law protects the work against alterations and manipulations.
Nassar also briefly discussed collaboration works i.e. with different authors involved, stressing that the law protects all contributors within these works. At the end of his presentation, he highlighted the different aspects of “rights” a photograph incorporates. In addition to the photograph’s rights and the author’s rights, there also exist the rights of the photographed person. The latter has the right to permit or refuse the commercial use of his image.
3. Legal Framework Of Built Heritage Protection-­‐ Written by Mabel Tyan & Presented by Claudine Abdelmassih
Claudine Abdelmassih presented Maitre Mabel Tyan’s report for the Arab Center for Architecture on the Protection of Built Heritage in Lebanon, which focused on the legal frameworks currently in place, the actors involved and the challenges faced. Claudine began by discussing the existing laws related to the preservation of built heritage. She then moved on to discuss the institutions working for the preservation of heritage: the General Directorate of Antiquities (GDA), the Ministry of Culture, the General Directorate of Urbanism, the Council for Development and Reconstruction in addition to other local organizations. Reflecting on the current lack of heritage policy in Lebanon, Tyan’s report indicated that decisions were simply being taken by those in power, sidestepping any comprehensive planning. Among many suggestions, it highlighted the need for fair financial or other compensation for landlords wanting to sell their property if of architectural value; for financial aid to municipalities for the renovation of heritage sites; for review of the exceptional law for properties leased prior to 1991 in order that renovations may be undertaken; and for support of the GDA to carry out their work. Finally, it underlined action that can be taken in the meantime: establishment of clear criteria and reliable commissions formed of professionals and other involved persons to justify and clarify decisions relating to classification and downgrading of a building’s status; and education and heightening awareness among the Lebanese public concerning this issue, and the dangers of allowing built heritage in Lebanon to disappear.
The first part of the discussion was centered on built and cultural heritage protection. Taking the case of Masrah Beirut as a lead, the main points discussed were how to define and estimate the cultural value of a space taking into consideration all its different aspects (architecture, symbolic value, cultural value etc.). In addition, the need to generalize these issues into a public cause instead of approaching them as isolated cases and trying to resolve them with a compromise between owners and activists was highly emphasized. These efforts should be made to change laws that might then resolve similar cases. Questions about intellectual property laws and copyright issues were also raised. The most recurrent theme was outlining instances of copyright infringement, the author’s rights after selling his work, copyrights for anonymous works and the like.      

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