Hastings Law Journal


Kavita Sharma


Who owns the relics of cultures past? Worldwide trade in stolen art and antiquities is estimated to be between $860 million and $2.6 billion annually. As a result, nations rich in cultural property, such as art, manuscripts, antiquities, and artifacts, have enacted national patrimony laws to protect the exportation of such property out of their country. National patrimony laws give the state title to objects considered cultural property discovered within its borders. In the past thirty years, however, U.S. courts have struggled to find ways to repatriate cultural property based on a nation's patrimony laws.

The recent Second Circuit case, United States v. Schultz, is the latest example of how courts have dealt with a foreign country's claim of ownership to its cultural property based on its patrimony laws. Schultz requires that a foreign nation show that it was the owner of the cultural property in issue at the time it was removed from that country and the foreign nation was actively enforcing its patrimony laws, so they are not illusory. Schultz is unique because it provides foreign nations with clear procedures on what they must do to successfully retrieve cultural objects smuggled into the United States. This note explores U.S. categories of "found" property, the cases leading up to Schultz where nations have sought to prove ownership through national patrimony laws, and the requirements Schultz places on foreign nations trying to retrieve their stolen property.

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