Tracking Stolen Artworks on the Internet: A New Standard for Due Diligence


Laura McFarland-Taylor


VOL. XVI • Summer 1998 • NO. 4 (table of contents)

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Cite as:

16 John Marshall J. of Comp. & Info. Law 937


This comment proposes adopting an internationally recognized standard of due diligence in reporting lost or stolen artworks utilizing the Internet. To insure that the proposed standard of due diligence is acceptable internationally, this Comment proposes the creation of a readily accessible database in which the theft of artworks is tracked utilizing the Internet. First this Comment briefly discusses the history of stolen artworks. Second, this Comment discusses the various legal standards the courts use in analyzing stolen art cases: statute of limitations, due diligence and adverse possession. To analyze the standards now used, four cases are discussed: O'Keeffe v. Snyder, Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus v. Goldberg and Feldman Fine Arts, Inc., Guggenheim v. Lubell and DeWeerth v. Baldinger. As the cases demonstrate, good-faith purchasers, sellers and true owners are not left with much guidance in determining what their rights and responsibilities are regarding the buying, selling or return of artworks. The courts apply different rules depending on who the parties are, what actions (or inactions) were taken by the parties, and even the atmosphere of the art world at the time of the theft. The situation becomes even more difficult if one of the parties involved is not a resident of the United States.

There are literally hundreds of web sites dealing with stolen artworks on the Internet. Some sites are too specialized for the purposes of developing an internationally recognized standard of due diligence utilizing the Internet. As with any use of the Internet, there are issues of access and privacy. Access can also be gained through local police stations, the FBI, Scotland Yard or other large governmental agencies. Privacy issues can be resolved within the programming of the database.

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