Saturday, September 18, 2010

Golb trial and Eisenman-Qimron case

THE GOLB IDENTITY THEFT TRIAL is tied to the Eisenman-Qimron Dead Sea Scrolls copyright trial by Neil Wilkof at the IPCat blog (which deals with copyright, IT, etc. issues). Excerpt:
One of the most media-drenched iconic copyright cases of the last 20 years must certainly be the dispute over the copyrightability of the Scrolls. Well, not exactly the Scrolls themselves, since they entered the public domain nearly 2,000 years ago. But in the case of Eisenman v. Qimron, the Israel Supreme Court was called upon the decide on whether the reconstruction of one of the ancient texts by an Israeli academic--Professor Elisha Qimron-- was a protected copyright work.

What Qimron did was study the text itself, which itself was a physical recreation of a large number of parchment fragements that had been discovered in a desert cave in the late 1940's. Imagine having your grandchild tear up into fragments your favorite copy of Beowulf in the original Norse language and then try to put the fragments back together again--you get the idea. Since the physical reconstruction itself revealed gaps in the text, Professor Qimron was asked to complete the text, which he did.

The reconstructed text was then set to be the centerpeice of a book that Professor Qimron intended to publish. But before he could do so, however, the reconstruction was published in a journal--Biblical Archealogical Review. Qimron alleged infringement, while the defendants challenged the copyrightability of Qimron's reconstruction, arguing inter alia that what he did was reconstruct a pre-existing work (albeit of ancient provenance) that may well have significant academic value, but which did not constitute a "work" in the copyright sense. Qimron prevailed at tht trial court level and the Supreme Court affirmed.

Behind the particulars of the case (and the archaeo-political intrigue behind it) the debate continues to rage over who composed the Scrolls. Two of the most prominent scholars in this field are Lawrence Schiffman of New York University and Norman Golb of the University of Chicago (who was a witness in the copyright case discussed above). The debate centers on whether the authors of the scrolls were members of the Essenes, an ascetic sect that lived in the Judean desert, or other groups located in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Now the issue of the authorship of the scrolls has led to its own lawsuit.
I believe Qimron's text of 4QMMT was published without permission in A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not BAR. In any case, the post has links at the bottom to various resources on the earlier trial. You can read an unofficial English translation of the Hebrew-text Israeli Supreme Court judgment here.

Also, the current case is now getting attention from British media with this Telegraph article.

Background here.