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Abstract

There are many ways to protect cultural heritage as a valuable commodity. Although heightened security measures and extensive surveillance methods can deter theft, a more effective means for reducing theft is the elimination of the demand for black market art items. Trade in unprovenanced antiquities is a demand-driven crime; the market for illegal or undocumented items is driven by buyers’ wants. The most effective method of protection for cultural heritage is to eliminate the demand for black market for these precious objects, thereby reducing the market, a method known as the “market reduction approach.” There is a well-documented link between the demand for items without provenance and museums. To eliminate black market demand, legislation is necessary to prosecute and regulate buyers, such as museums. As buyers, museums should be subject to greater scrutiny when acquiring objects. Museums have the ability and responsibility to appropriately research their acquisitions, as their objective is to house and preserve artwork. According to the International Council of Museums (“ICOM”), museums are non-profit, permanent institutions in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. Due to their educational and public purpose, museums are generally granted tax deductions and government funding. A portion of these monetary resources should thus be mandated for the due diligence required for museums to properly conduct acquisition investigations. In fact, if museums continue to purchase and receive pieces from the black market, they are perpetuating the use of public dollars in the furtherance of illicit and terrorism-linked activities. The nexus between government dollars and black market trade requires the United States to take greater action in the prevention of museums’ acquisitions of looted artwork.

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