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.