Bezanson on "Art and the Constitution"

Randall P. Bezanson has a very interesting and entertaining article (with pictures) in the most recent issue of the Iowa Law Review titled Art and the Constitution. From the introduction:

The First Amendment has been with us for 217 years. Over that long
history there have been surprisingly few Supreme Court cases involving art—
hardly more than a handful—and even fewer that are illuminating. When
forced to address the status of art under the Constitution, the Supreme
Court has simply said “of course” and “surely” the free-speech guarantee of the
First Amendment protects art. But as I tell my students in constitutional law,
when the Supreme Court explains itself by saying “of course” and “surely,” it
is a safe bet that the Justices do not really know what they are talking about.
This is the case with art. The Court does not tell us what art is, why it is
protected, or how the free-speech guarantee can be read to include it.
It turns out that the question of art and free speech is a very difficult
one, and this is the reason that art has had a troubled relationship with the
First Amendment. The law of obscenity, for example, protects only “serious”
art (whatever the Court means by that). But what about happy art? Or
humorous art? Or avocational, rather than professional, art?

And from the text:

Plato was right in at least one respect. Art is dangerous and incapable of
domestication. It rests on emotion and the senses. Art, as I use the term
here, is a representation perceived not mainly through our cognitive
faculties, but instead through our senses unconstrained by reason. An object
or performance that we call art is an instrument through which the
presented object is assimilated through the senses and becomes re-
represented as something distinct to each person—a perception or
understanding grounded in an act of imagination.

And from the conclusion:

Free speech—literally, textually, and by common public understanding
in the late Eighteenth Century—did not include art, but it should today.
The expansion of speech to include art reflects the evolved and evolving
habits and attitudes of society at large over a period of more than 200 years.
Today, art is a major source of expression and ideas. It is a central feature of
the creativity that our culture so prizes. Our culture has evolved from a time
when there was no broad private market in art—only patronage—to a time
when the private market in art is pervasive.

Highly recommended — Strict constructionism, Justice Scalia, Serrano’s Piss Christ, Manet, and Finley’s Return of the Chocolate-Smeared Woman all in one article.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Private International Law and Nations of Origin



I have posted on SSRN a working version of my forthcoming paper titled How Adopting the Lex Originis Rule Can Impede the Flow of Illicit Cultural Property, to be published some time next Spring in the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts. Here is the abstract:

The International trade and transfer of art and antiquities faces problems because nations have erected very different rules with respect to movable property. All nations forbid theft, however most cultural property disputes involve an original owner and a subsequent good faith possessor. Different jurisdictions have chosen to allocate rights and responsibilities between these two relative innocents in very different ways. Disharmony in the law is seldom a good thing, but in the realm of cultural property it can be particularly damaging to the interests of nations, museums, individuals, and our collective cultural heritage. The lack of harmony ensures no overarching policy choices will be furthered, which prevents parties from anticipating legal outcomes and giving substance to policies.

This article explores the default conflict of law rules which are applied to cultural property, and shows how the lex situs rule exploits the various legal rules which apply to art and antiquities. It challenges the lofty position enjoyed by the lex situs rule and proposes a radical reform of the default choice of law analysis. By employing the law of the Nation of Origin or lex originis courts can ensure the jurisdiction with the most tangible connection to an object enjoys the benefit of applying its legal rules to a given dispute. This will not only ensure the security of art and antiquities transactions, but impart much-needed transparency into the cultural property trade, and finally will decrease the theft and illegal excavation of art and antiquities.

The article begins by presenting some examples of recent disputes, and the problems they present for the law and cultural heritage policy. Section II describes the fundamental difficulty of adjudicating claims between two relative innocents, and the disharmony which has resulted as different jurisdictions have resolved this conundrum in very different ways. Section III lays out the ways in which private international law impacts art and antiquities disputes. Section IV analyzes the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, the most recent attempt to harmonize the law affecting cultural property. Section V proposes a radical reform of the choice of law enquiry taken by courts.

I’d be delighted to hear any reactions to the work at derek.fincham “at” gmail.com.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Student Comment on the 1970 UNESCO Convention

Janene Marie Podesta has written an article in the Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, SAVING CULTURE, BUT PASSING THE BUCK: HOW THE 1970 UNESCO CONVENTION UNDERMINES ITS GOALS BY UNDULY TARGETING MARKET NATIONS. I haven’t found a free copy available on the net, so you’ll have to rely on the usual scholarly databases if you’re keen to get your hands on a copy.

I continue to be surprised at the tremendous popularity of this topic, particularly the frequency with which cultural heritage issues are used as Note and Comment topics for law students. I think this is a good thing, though unfortunately they tend to rely a bit too much on the same staple of core topics and concepts.

From the Introduction:

This Note argues that UNESCO’s current policy, which makes a minority number of market nations almost universally responsible for the protection of source nations’ cultural property, is contrary to the international public good and cannot succeed in its current form. While well intentioned, placing all responsibility on the receivers of illicit goods will not curb the flow of these goods; it will only send the market further underground. It may also result in criminal prosecution for those who were simply ignorant rather than those who purposefully decimated their own countries’ heritage. UNESCO requires almost nothing from some nations (generally, those who gain the most from the system) and burdens others with disproportionate accountability.
Part II of this Note will focus on the various international conventions on the subject of cultural property, predominately the 1970 UNESCO Convention. It will look at the context in which the 1970 UNESCO Convention was convened, the conflicting theories on the concept of “cultural property” underlying the drafting, and the resulting bias against internationalist nations within the 1970 UNESCO Convention. These factors make the system ultimately unsustainable.
Part III traces the development of the current situation by exploring the various interpretations countries have had of the UNESCO decree to “carry out the necessary concrete measures” to protect the state’s own “cultural patrimony.” It will focus on the three main types of ownership laws that have been enacted by various countries, and will also reflect on the success that each such method has shown.
Part IV will, conversely, look at those steps taken by market countries, particularly the United States, to “prevent museums and similar institutions . . .from acquiring cultural property,” and “to recover and return” any such property. This part will highlight not only laws specifically enacted in reaction to UNESCO, but also laws that have substituted for such laws in cases of cultural property “theft.” It will then analyze the effects that various rulings have had on the cultural patrimony arena, and forecast the dangers likely to result from such holdings.
Part V suggests alternate possibilities that would more evenly balance the responsibility between those nations that wish to protect their own cultural heritage, and those that wish to help in this quest without sacrificing their own belief systems and citizens’ rights.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Antiquities as Natural Resources

Andrew P. Morriss (University of Illinois College of Law) has posted Politics & Property in Natural Resources on SSRN. Assuming Natural Resources are analogous to antiquities, he makes some interesting arguments. Here is the abstract:

Modern discussions of natural resources focus on increasing public control over extractive industries proposing measures that range from increasing the public’s share of the gain via royalties and taxes to regulating extractive activities to prevent environmental problems to outright expropriation of private investments. This Article argues that such efforts are counterproductive because the fundamental economic problem of natural resources is producing the knowledge necessary to locate and extract resource deposits. The public benefit comes from enabling the use of the resources and the increased economic activity their discovery produces rather than from royalties or expropriation. The key question in designing natural resource laws is thus their effects on the incentive to discover and manage resources. Private property rights in natural resources are the best way to provide such incentives. Fortunately, the combination of property rights and tort law principles (trespass and nuisance) enables property rights to solve environmental problems related to natural resource extraction as well.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

My Article on the Portable Antiquities Scheme

I’ve posted on SSRN my article from the August edition of the International Journal of Cultural Property, A Coordinated Legal and Policy Approach to Undiscovered Antiquities: Adapting the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to Other Nations of Origin 15 Int’l. J. Cult. Prop. 347 (2008). Here’s the abstract:

Blanket ownership laws, export restrictions, and the criminal law of market nations are the default legal strategies currently used by nations of origin to prevent the looting of archaeological sites. Although they have been remarkably successful at achieving the return of looted objects, they may not be the best strategies to maximize the recording and preservation of archaeological context. In England and Wales a more permissive legal regime broadly applied and adopted by the public at large has produced dramatically better results than the strong prescriptive regime of Scotland, which can be easily ignored.

This article attempts to clear up any misconceptions of the cultural policy framework in England and Wales. It accounts for the legal position accorded undiscovered portable antiquities, and describes how this legal framework is perfected by a voluntary program called the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). This approach stands in stark contrast to Scotland, which has used a legal strategy adopted by most other nations of origin.

The domestic legal framework for portable antiquities in England and Wales is unique and differs from the typical approach. Coupled with the PAS, this legal structure has resulted in a better cultural policy, which leads to less looting of important archaeological sites, allows for a tailored cultural policy, and has produced more data and contextual information with which to conduct historical and archaeological research on an unprecedented scale. Compensating finders of antiquities may even preclude an illicit market in antiquities so long as this compensation is substantially similar to the market price of the object and effectively excludes looters from this reward system. Although the precise number of found versus looted objects that appear on the market is open to much speculation, an effective recording system is essential to ensure that individuals who find objects are encouraged to report them.

I wanted to write what I hope is a thoughtful piece which describes in an objective way what the PAS does, and how it creates a pragmatic compromise. Many of the very best heritage scholars are still seemingly under a misimpression about what it does and does not do. It’s not a perfect system, but it has produced some dramatic results, and may change the way we conceptualize heritage and context. I hope those interested in the scheme and archaeology will do me and the employees of the PAS the courtesy of reading the piece before dismissing my position. Sadly I’m afraid some already have reacted, without even reading the piece.

I have no doubt that some of my assertions may prove controversial, and I’m happy to have a vigorous debate, but I think everyone interested in heritage issues needs to work harder to make sure they are leaving room for meaningful discourse and disagreement and that we’re respectful of differing views and positions.

Pictured here are a horse and rider found in Cambridgeshire which appeared in the 2007 PAS annual report, via the PAS flickr page.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Wang on the Waverley System for Art Export in the UK

Vivian Wang has written an article “Whose Responsibility? The Waverley System, Past and Present“($) in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Cultural Property:

This article explores the history and present operation of the Waverley system, the United Kingdom’s art export policy established in 1952. A key component of the article is its attempt to illuminate the little-known story surrounding the birth of the system, which has been pieced together using treasury and Board of Trade papers held in the National Archives. The article then examines, both qualitatively and quantitatively, how responsibility for the system has evolved. The main pattern that emerges is the progressive detachment of the treasury: Although it spearheaded the formation of the Waverley system in 1952, today it is much more removed, in terms of administration and attitude, from the system.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Update on Wednesday’s Art Crime Panel

Wednesday’s panel at the British Society of Criminology was very engaging, and would have garnered a great deal of attention among cultural heritage scholars. But I’m sad to report that I’ve had considerably more folks email me to ask about the presentation than were actually present at the presentations.

Lucky for us, all of the papers we were discussing are published (or in my case will be soon).

My presentation was based on a forthcoming article in the International Journal of Cultural Property on the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. I’ll shamelessly self-promote that when I have a copy available.

Simon Mackenzie‘s paper is: “Performative Regulation: A Case Study in How Powerful People avoid Criminal Labels” British Journal of Criminology 2008 48(2):138-153.

Carolyn Shelbourn’s presentation was based on a few articles:

Shelbourn, C “Time crime” – looting of archaeological resources and
the criminal law in England and the United States [2008] Criminal
Law Review, 204-213.

Shelbourn, C. Protecting Archaeological Resources In The United
States: Some Lessons For Law And Practice In England? [2007] Art
Antiquity and Law, 259-278.

Shelbourn C, Bringing The Skeletons Out Of The Closet? The Law and
Human Remains In Art, Archaeology and Museum Collections [2006] Art,
Antiquity and Law 179-198.

These two presentations were excellent and I enjoyed them a great deal. One problem with the current state of Heritage Law Scholarship, is that many of the best work is in specialty journals that can be hard to find. I think in particular a lot of the work by UK academics is underutilized by American authors because they don’t know about it. I’m working on a project which should help to correct a lot of those problems, and I’ll have a lot more to say about that in a few weeks hopefully.

Some of the journals, in particular Art, Antiquity and Law are not available electronically as far as I am aware. This is a real shame, and I think more authors should consider putting their work online so it can be accessed via sites like SSRN and others (or those journals need to consider putting stuff online). There are tradeoffs perhaps, and some Journals may not like stuff being given away, but I don’t see much point in writing articles if people are unaware of them or don’t read them.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"European Environmental Human Rights and Environmental Rights: A Long Time Coming?"

Ole W. Pedersen, a colleague of mine here in Aberdeen has posted European Environmental Human Rights and Environmental Rights: A Long Time Coming?, forthcoming in the Georgetown International Environmental Law Review.

There is an interesting connection between on the one hand antiquities and material remains of our past and also the natural environment which gave rise to ancient cultures and civilizations. As such, there is a largely-untapped body of environmental jurisprudence which may prove of use for cultural heritage scholars. One approach may be to look to a kind of “right to culture”, however the difficulty scholars have had in creating a substantive right to the environment may pose some potential obstacles to such an approach.

Here is the abstract:

This paper deals with the area of rights and environmental law focusing on procedural environmental rights and substantive human rights to the environment in a European context. The paper asserts that while international developments in this area have generally ceased, two strong trends are emerging in Europe. First, a strong focus on procedural environmental rights (a right to access to environmental information, a right to public participation and a right to access to justice) is in place in Europe. This part of the paper is based on an analysis of a number of European legal instruments and regimes, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law from the European Court of Human Rights, the 1998 UNECE Aarhus Convention as well as environmental law and policy from the European Community. It is argued that the strong focus on these procedural rights in Europe have led to such norms reaching a level regional customary law with the potential to influence international legal developments. In relation to a substantive human right to the environment, which the paper argues is currently lacking on the international level, it is argued that recent tentative approaches on a European regional level to a substantive right may further add to the precarious status of a substantive right under international law. Here, European developments have the potential to add to other regional instruments in, for instance, Africa and Latin and Southern America. In addition, recent constitutional changes in domestic European law has led to a wide range of national constitutions containing provisions on a right to the environment, which again have the potential to add further weight to the development of an international right.


Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"The Holocaust, Museum Ethics, and Legalism"

Jennifer Anglim Kreder has posted her forthcoming article The Holocaust, Museum Ethics, and Legalism, forthcoming from the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice, Vol 18, 2008 on SSRN:

The Holocaust art movement has led to significant and controversial restitutions from museums. This article focuses on two emotionally driven claims to recover a suitcase stolen from a murdered man and watercolors a woman was forced to paint for Josef Mengele to document his pseudo-scientific theories of racial inferiority and his cruel medical experiments. Both claims are asserted against the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, and the museum has refused to return the objects. These claims provide insightful case studies to examine the emotional and ethical aspects of such disputes. Drawing from a number of disciplines, this article demonstrates the inadequacy of the dominant frameworks influencing the cultural property field, which are grounded in property law, morality and utilitarianism, for evaluating the Holocaust-related claims. This article also demonstrates that the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Ethics provides a useful construct for evaluating the claims. ICOM Principle 6.7, which calls on museums to promote well-being, should be the guiding light for museums deciding whether to return Holocaust-related objects. The article concludes that the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s refusal to return the objects is faulty ethically, counter to its mission, and reflective of the inadequacy of Poland’s approach to post-war restitution.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Have American Museums Initiated "Real Change"?

Lee Rosenbaum has a very interesting post detailing her thoughts of the “Return of Cultural Objects” conference held in Athens this week. She participated in the panel titled “Museums, Sites and Cultural Context”, and described her own presentation as follows:

[I] lampooned (and occasionally praised) strategies used in labeling and installing antiquities by American museums, which often have scant information about the archaeological context of objects in their collections. I was struck by the contrast between American labels and those at Athens’ National Archaeological Museum, where almost every object is accompanied by information on where it was found.

I ended by championing the view that I share in common with my hosts, singling out two examples from U.S. museums that fit the Parthenon marbles theme—ancient objects that had been fragmented and should be reassembled through the amicable cooperation of the different owners.

However she expressed a more unpopular view when she argued, in sharp contrast to Ricardo Elia, that “there had been substantial recent changes in American museums’ antiquities-collecting policies, which had been implemented to varying degrees.” It’s great to get this kind of quick reaction to the discussion. As to the substance of the claim, whether there has been real change, I think Rosenbaum is probably right, but only for a limited number of museums. A couple institutions, the Getty and the Indianapolis Museum of Art have very strict acquisition policies that are the gold-standard. However these kinds of policies are still voluntary, and there are a number of other institutions who are still dragging their feet. Look to the recent raids in California of LACMA and other institutions for evidence of a failure to reform. Ultimately, both Elia and Rosenbaum are correct, depending on which institutions they might be discussing.

This calls to mind the recent string of repatriations from North American institutions, which can be seen as responses to earlier acquisition policies which may have been lacking. Stacey Falkoff, a third-year law student at Brooklyn Law School has published an interesting student note, Mutually-Beneficial Repatriation Agreements: Returning Cultural Patrimony, Perpetuating the Illicit Antiquities Market in 16 Brooklyn Journal of Law and Policy 265 (2007). She does a great job of describing and compiling the recent string of repatriations, and draws some conclusions. She argues two things essentially, that these Mutually Beneficial Repatriation Agreements (MBRAs) actually perpetuate the illicit trade by mitigating the damage which these institutions suffer when a repatriation takes place, thereby making it easier for museums to acquire potentially-looted objects, and second they hamper the formation of judicial precedent utilizing international conventions.

Certain aspects of these MBRAs may be questioned, however she doesn’t do a good enough job showing how the judicial interpretation may be needed, and she falls into the trap many student notes have of relying too much on secondary sources and other articles. I would give the piece high marks for thoroughly analyzing these recent agreements, and its well-researched as far as many of these secondary sources.

I’d argue the law may be complex in this area, but more judicial interpretation is not necessarily needed. I would come to a different conclusion. I think these repatriation agreements are a good thing, and I certainly think the Met will think twice before acquiring another “orphan” such as the Euphronios Krater, which was seen as suspicious when it was acquired.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com