09 June 2011

Uniform Law Commission plan to issue art ownership dispute standards may be over

On April 25, 2011, we announced an initiative spearheaded by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) aimed at coming up with a series of legal standards that could be used across the United States in order to resolve art ownership disputes arising out of claims filed by Holocaust survivors or their heirs for the return of their looted cultural assets.

A number of individuals, entities, and organizations supplied comments to the ULC in reaction to its proposal for producing these standards. See in particular the contribution of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) in the form of an open letter addressed to the ULC.

The “stakeholders”, namely, claimants, auction houses, museums, art dealers and collectors and law enforcement, and attorneys representing all sides of these disputes, voiced an almost unanimous condemnation and critique of the standards proposed by the Study Committee of the ULC.

As a result of this highly negative reaction, the Study Committee is recommending that the ULC should not “undertake the drafting of a uniform act on private rights of action to recover stolen cultural or artistic property and illegally exported artifacts”. Although the proposed effort to issue standards regulating art ownership disputes evenhandedly across the United States might have well-intentioned, the end result would have set back the clock for all those seeking even a minimal chance of having their case heard in a court of law, absent, of course, any public policy that the Congress might consider enacting in this regard. Until such time, it is best to leave things as they are, however imperfect and lopsided the current legal system is.