Sunday 14 June 2020

US Antiquities Trade Lobby Group's "Global Art and Heritage Law Project"

The American Committee for Cultural Policy has launched its 'Global Art and Heritage Law Project' (general editor: Kate Fitz Gibbon) that sets out, nation by nation, the heritage legislation concerning art, collections and built heritage. There is no overall presentation of the precise aims of this 'project' that I can see, which is a shame because in assessing what the various authors have produced, it would be helpful to see the brief with which they were presented. It is a bit annoying that these nine volumes do not all have the same format, which prevents simple comparisons between the systems of each country. So far, the scope of this project is not exactly 'global', as there are only nine volumes completed (United States, Peru, Nigeria, India, China, Turkey, "Italy and the EU" [!], Bulgaria [ummm.... IN the EU], England and Wales).

 The latter is by Olivia Franklin and Hazel Levent of White and Case (who also authored the one on "Italy and the EU"). It is not clear why (or perhaps it is, see below) the legislation of the United Kingdom is separated out into "England and Wales" and Scotland and Northern Ireland are omitted. As far as it goes, then, the coverage of the legislation seems comprehensive, but there are one or two puzzling features.

In particular, one wonders at the volume's coverage of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in a text on legislation. Nowhere do Franklin and Levant show that the PAS forms any part of heritage legislation, which is not surprising, because it is not. So, what's it doing here? They call it "the PAS system" (pp. 6, 8 fn 13) - which of course it is not. They also represent it [p. 33] as a "register" - presumably* making it sound as if it is a register in the meaning of the 1970 UNESCO Convention Art 10 - which is simply a misunderstanding).

It is notable that in a discussion of UK law, the brief seems to have been just to keep it to the bits where the PAS (generally lusted after by artefact collectors the world over) operates. The PAS is mentioned  as many as 12 times [pp. 7, 8,33, 38-9, 49, 50] and - as seems always to be the case - proved too complicated for the authors to present it properly. For example, the PAS no longer 'monitors eBay' (though you would be forgiven for merely copying out the fossilised bit of their website that still gives that impression). So those nice British "responsible metal detectorists" even get a mention. Apparently only the NCMD and FID (whose name the authors get wrong) [p. 44] have codes of practice, mention of the "other one" is omitted.

A brave effort, but cold have benefited from wider consultation. I can't wait for the Polish one.

I've not got time to go through the other volumes, but looking through their contents lists, I'll hazard a guess that the main aim of the whole project is NOT to provide collectors with a summary of the legislation they need to respect if they want to consider themselves "responsible" (which trade lobbyists should have produced two decades ago). I have a feeling that the framework the subject headings provides is an indication that the main reason they have been created is to (make Peter Tompa's work easier and), provide fuel for future challenges in sittings of the CPAC in the framework of the staged enquiries involved in the application of the US's selective 'Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act'. Let us see if that prediction plays out. If so, the whole subject matter will have been presented in a slanted manner, in favour of the use of these texts for this function.

* because Art 2(i) of the Valetta Convention is not mentioned (except erroneously on p. 24 and again on p 41 - they mean ETS 119!)

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