Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Kurt G. Siehr

First Page



In discussing trends toward liberal exchange of cultural objects, it must be stressed that the exchange should be a legal exchange. This, however, is not easy to define because legal systems differ with respect to the qualifications of legality of art trade. Since United States v. Schultz, there is less of a disparity between Europe and the United States as to the characterization of illegal excavations as a kind of theft in countries claiming that archaeological finds are state property. Also, with respect to export prohibitions, there is not much disagreement so far: in all countries, foreign export prohibitions are not enforced unless confirmed by domestic import barriers enacted in implementing international agreements. Basic differences still exist, however, with respect to bona fide purchases of diverted or stolen goods. In almost all continental European countries, diverted or stolen goods may be acquired by a bona fide sale or prescription, and are thereby cleaned of their dubious provenance and permitted to enter the legal art trade. The common law tradition, however, is less forgiving than the practice in most continental European countries: the fact that a stolen good was acquired by a bona fide purchaser does not rid it of its dubious provenance and the stolen good remains barred from the legal art trade. So far, nothing has changed and no trend for a change can be seen.