Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Did Santa Bring You Stolen Art?

We don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer this holiday season, but thefts of artwork and cultural property are part of a billion-dollar black market. Collectors of art and antiques should protect their own treasures from theft, as well as educate themselves to prevent unknowingly acquiring stolen pieces from unscrupulous dealers.

The FBI makes it easy with a searchable National Stolen Art File, launched in late November as part of the Bureau’s website redesign. The database includes information on stolen artwork and cultural property which is valued at more than $2,000. Also worth a look is the FBI’s general Art Theft page, which includes resources to report thefts, advice for protecting against losses, and the Bureau’s fascinating list of “Top Ten Art Crimes.”

The FBI is not the only organization which is concerned with stolen art. INTERPOL also maintains a resource page about art theft, although their database requires approved registration in order to perform advanced searches (access to recently-reported thefts is freely available).

The recovery of stolen works is just one facet of what is known as "art law." To learn more about the unique legal issues related to art and cultural property, search the Duke Libraries’ catalog for the subject keywords "Law and Art – United States" and "Artists – Legal status, laws, etc. – United States," or Ask a Librarian.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Understanding the New Tax Law

It's been hard to ignore the last few weeks of debate about the massive tax legislation working its way through Congress. A controversial “compromise” plan, engineered in part by the White House, passed the U.S. House of Representatives close to midnight on Thursday, December 16.

Just a few hours later, the major tax research databases were announcing the publication of updated commentary and analysis of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act (H.R. 4853 – THOMAS bill summary and text). Researchers at Duke Law have access to three premium tax resources: BNA’s Tax and Accounting Center, CCH IntelliConnect, and RIA Checkpoint. Since research in these services can be overwhelming to novice users, here are detailed roadmaps to their expert commentaries on the new tax law.
  • BNA Tax and Accounting Center: Follow the path Federal Tax > Tax Legislation > BNA Analysis of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, passed by the House and Senate.
  • CCH IntelliConnect: Follow this path in the “Browse” menu: Federal Tax > Federal Tax Legislation > Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010: Law, Explanation & Analysis. Note that IntelliConnect requires a username and password, which can be created with your Duke email address.
  • RIA Checkpoint: The full text of RIA’s “Complete Analysis of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, RIC Modernization, and Other Late 2010 Tax Provisions” is currently linked from the database home page, and is also searchable from the “Research” tab underneath “Legislation (Editorial Analysis and Source Material).”
Just sixteen hours after its passage in the House, the President signed the bill into public law, illustrating the value of these electronic services as sources for news and analysis on the latest developments in tax law. For more sources of information on federal tax, check out the library’s research guide or Ask a Librarian.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A New Congressional Staff Directory

Earlier this year, we rounded up some Duke databases which can help identify Congressional staff members, and asked the question: “Do any free Internet sources stack up to CQ and the Yellow Book?”

Last week, a new online resource entered the fray when the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency organization, released a beta directory of all employees from the U.S. House of Representatives. Sunlight's House Staff Directory contains data from the third quarter of 2009 to present. The data can be searched by staff title, political party, quarter and/or state, and results can be downloaded to a spreadsheet.

The Sunlight Foundation explains the development of the directory in its blog post. The staff information is drawn from the House Clerk’s office and the Statement of Disbursements (a quarterly breakdown of House expenditures). The makers caution that some data may be up to six months out of date, due to the distribution schedules of their source material. The new directory also does not include salary information, which is provided by another free source called Legistorm.

Sunlight calls its new directory a “work in progress,” and invites comments and suggestions for improvement. Take a look at the new directory as well as the resources from our earlier blog post, and see for yourself how they compare.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Human Rights Day 2010

On this day in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The anniversary of this influential document has been observed around the world in subsequent years as Human Rights Day, including since 1949 in the United States by presidential proclamation. The UN’s Human Rights Day 2010 page profiles “human rights defenders” who are working to end discrimination from Mongolia, to Lesotho, to Chile. There is also a short quiz to test your historical human rights acumen.

More than 60 years after the declaration’s adoption, human rights violations remain a major international concern. Non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch publish reports on a variety of topical issues, and also provide access to news and commentary for particular countries and/or regions. Additional human rights NGOs around the world can be located through resources listed in the Perkins Library’s NGO research guide, including Associations Unlimited, a searchable online version of the Encyclopedia of Associations (which can also be found in print in the Law Library’s reference collection).

Information about the history and impact of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be found in the Duke Libraries Catalog with a search for the subject keywords "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". The library’s large collection of materials on human rights can be located with a subject keyword search for "human rights". You can further narrow your search results by a specific country (for example, “human rights – burma”). For further help with researching human rights law and history, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

32 Flavors. 57 Varieties. 51 Code Titles?

Some numbers just seem destined to remain constant: 24 hours in a day; 212 degrees to boil water; and a 3.5 median in Law School seminar classes. For a long time, it seemed like the 50 titles to the U.S. Code was one of those dependable numbers too. The U.S.C. has had 50 titles since its first edition in 1926 (although their corresponding subjects have changed over time, and Title 34, Navy, has sat empty since its 1956 repeal).

But over the weekend, the Senate unanimously passed H.R. 3237, The Charles 'Pete' Conrad Astronomy Awards Act, which would create Title 51 of the U.S. Code, as a single place for laws on the subject of ‘National and Commercial Space Programs.’ The newly-enacted title would transfer existing code sections related to space from Title 15 (Commerce and Trade), Title 42 (Public Health and Welfare), and Title 49 (Transportation). The bill had passed the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2010, but languished without action in the Senate for months.

H.R. 3237 is an example of positive law codification, a tricky legal research concept which is best explained with a history lesson. The first U.S. Code was an attempt to arrange all of the laws in force (from the chronological U.S. Statutes at Large) by their subject matter. This editorial arrangement of the general and permanent laws in force was considered only “prima facie evidence” of the law (i.e., in the event of a typo or other textual discrepancy, the Statutes at Large text would control). Beginning in 1947, Congress enacted several U.S.C. titles into positive law, systematically revising a title and enacting it as a new statute (thus making the title itself into legal evidence of the law, rather than prima facie evidence). Currently (and until H.R. 3237 is signed by the President), 24 of the U.S.C.’s 50 titles have been enacted into positive law.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel, the office within Congress which updates editorial changes to the U.S.C., has an information page about the Title 51 codification, as well as pages for its other proposed positive law codification projects, for subjects (like space programs) which don’t fit comfortably into the Code’s current topical structure. If all goes according to the Office’s plan, the U.S.C. could soon expand to 55 titles—although it still has a long way to go before it overtakes its predecessor, the Revised Statutes, which boasted 74 titles in its 1876 edition.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel is also in the process of proposing positive law revisions to existing U.S.C. titles – another House bill, for the enactment of Title 41 (Public Contracts), also passed the Senate over the weekend, but amendments made in the Senate will need to be reconciled before that bill is sent to the President for signature.

Still unclear about the finer points of positive law codification? Feel free to Ask a Librarian!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Costly Lesson in Parliamentary Procedure

Parliamentary procedure tends not to be a very hot topic of discussion-- unless your organization follows Robert's Rules of Order, or there’s yet another fistfight on a legislative chamber floor. But without even a single punch thrown, the finer points of parliamentary procedure are currently making headlines in the U.S.

Last week, the Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, hailed as a landmark achievement by a lame-duck Congress. The bill would provide greater authority to the Food & Drug Administration to recall contaminated food, in addition to requiring more frequent inspections of production sources. Unfortunately for the bill’s sponsors, and much to the amusement of Jon Stewart at the tail end of this Daily Show clip, the bill hit a constitutional snag almost immediately after its passage.

As Roll Call reported, any revenue-raising legislative provision is required to originate in the U.S. House of Representatives, not the Senate. (To avoid the issue, the Senate could have located a dead House bill, stripped its unrelated provisions, and attached the food safety bill text, but failed to do so.) Now that the bill is making its way to the House, some members are expected to block the bill’s passage there through a process called “blue slipping.”

The food safety bill sponsors would have done well to review Riddick’s Senate Procedure, the bible of Senate parliamentary practice. Originally researched and written by former Senate Parliamentarian (and Duke alumnus) Dr. Floyd M. Riddick, the title is available in print at the Duke Libraries as well as online through the Government Printing Office’s FDsys site. Its "Revenue" chapter clearly explains the constitutional issues which took place here, and other sections discuss the finer points of subjects like attendance expectations, treaty practices, and even the history of a century-long ban on flowers in the Senate chamber.

Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Riddick had an enormous influence on Senate procedure as well as on the Goodson Law Library. Dr. Riddick and his wife Marguerite were primary benefactors of the library, and their generosity is readily apparent in the Floyd M. and Marguerite F. Riddick Rare Book and Special Collections Room on Level 3. Displayed in the room are numerous photographs from Dr. Riddick's career, as well as some donated works from his personal collection on legislation and American government (many with personal inscriptions to Dr. Riddick from their authors, including most of the works by former president and Law School alumnus Richard Nixon). The Riddicks also established an endowment to support the library’s collection in the areas of legislative and parliamentary procedure. Although some of these items are kept in the Riddick Room, many are found in the library stacks by call number, with a bookplate identifying the Riddicks’ contribution.

For more information on congressional procedures, try a subject search in the Duke Libraries catalog for "Parliamentary practice—United States". To track the developments in the food safety bill, visit the THOMAS Bill Summary and Status page for S.510, or any of the bill tracking resources listed in this May 2009 post.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Exam-Time Excellence

It's reading & examination period at the Law School, and that means our students are busily preparing outlines and reviewing class notes. As stress levels rise and preparation time grows short, the Goodson Blogson wants to review some of the most common questions at the service desk lately.

Library Access

As previously reported (both here and in certain other legal blogs of note), exam time brings a temporary change to the library’s access policy, most notably in the evening hours. From now until the end of exams (Saturday, December 18), access to the Goodson Law Library for study purposes will be limited to current Duke Law students, faculty and staff. Card-swipe access to the library entrance will be required after 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.

Members of the Duke University community who require access to the library for research purposes should contact the library service desk for assistance. Additional study space is available to all throughout the building, in the Star Commons (Level 3 and 4), the Blue Lounge (Level 2), and Room 3041.

Getting Technical

If you plan to use your laptop to take an exam, make sure you have installed Electronic Bluebook (EBB) well ahead of time, and practice using it to ensure that your test goes smoothly! Detailed instructions are available on the Academic Technologies' Computing for Students page. If you encounter problems while downloading the software, talk to the Academic Technologies' Help Desk staff.

Reviewing Old Exams

A frequent question at the Reference Services desk during the reading and exam period is where to obtain copies of Law School exams from previous years. Past exams from your professors, where available, will be posted to your class Blackboard site. There is a common misconception that the library maintains an archive of exams as well. Although there is a print collection of past Law School exams in the library’s Archives collection (1935-2001), most of these are either from faculty who no longer teach at Duke or for faculty/course combinations which are no longer current for Fall 2010. The library has no post-2001 exams in paper or online formats.

What to Expect

If your professors have chosen not to place past exams on Blackboard, it may be helpful to review general law examination preparation guidebooks. These provide an overview of the most common formats for law school exams, and give strategies for studying and for writing successful answers. Often, these books also provide model exam questions and sample answers, along with explanations why a particular answer is more successful than others. Titles like Mastering the Law School Exam: A Practical Blueprint for Preparing and Taking Law School Exams can be found in the libraries’ catalog with a subject search for “Law examinations—United States”. A selected listing is provided in the “Exam Preparation” section of the library’s Law School Success handout, along with a helpful page of recommended "Study Guides & Aids."

Anything Else?

As always, the library staff are here to help. Visit the Service Desk on level 3 with any questions. Good luck on your exams!