Art, Cultural Heritage, and Law

Having recently completed a thesis on copyright for cultural heritage, and started an archiving contract with a law firm, I felt reasonably confident about my grasp of most aspects legal of the GLAM field. (I have also read the Canada Evidence Act. A lot.)

Boy, was my face red when I discovered there is a Center for Cultural Heritage Law, that had somehow eluded all my research attempts. And similar think tanks, under various names, like the Institute for Art and Law. There is a very real legal sub-field, just for us!

The Center and the Institute have their respective blogs (mostly promotional, sometimes informative), issuing opinions and decrees on everything from: how Detroit’s bankruptcy relates to their art collections, the return of looted cultural property, tax exemptions and receipts for art, theft and forgery, copyright and originality, technology and privacy …. it’s all there.

The Center also publishes the Journal of Art, Technology, and Intellectual Property Law, which I am now bulk-downloading before I graduate and lose my database access. They’re even hosting a debate competition on changes to the Visual Artists’ Rights Act, in February 2015.

The American Bar Association has a committee (loosely associated with the Center) on Art and Cultural Heritage Law, and the Center also collaborates with the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (I’ve linked to their list of art-and-law courses offered by American universities, just in case you need an elective).

It looks to be an emerging field, and I question whether there is space within information-science programs to incorporate the numerous lessons that cultural heritage law can offer. In my experience, legal compliance was mentioned ambiguously in my records-management class, and copyright was alluded to in the introductory “information and society” course. But pursuing a more in-depth course of study on legal issues was left to independent credits.

Besides the legal angles of running a cultural heritage group / institution / consultancy / what-have-you, we obviously have an interest in questions such as whether Vivian Maier’s phenomenal photos are considered “property” in the case of defaulting on a storage locker (and whether copyright is a “property” included in a storage contract):

“… not only will a lot of Maier’s work be tied up in litigation for years, it may not be able to be reproduced in books or shown in art galleries until everything is said and done. This is beyond unfortunate, and, in many ways, not what copyright law was intended to do.”

Or how to deal with art forgeries in our collections:

“… the former registrar of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Matthew Leininger, one of the first museum professionals to latch on to Landis’s faked donations, but whose obsession with his nemesis led to his eventual dismissal and whose young daughter can readily identify the subject of her father’s crusade with a disturbing familiarity.”

Or where our work sits on the line between intellectual freedoms, privacy, and protection from “hostile work environments:”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Minneapolis Area Office, issued a Determination that the Minneapolis Public Library subjected librarians employed by the library to a “sexually hostile work environment” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for maintaining a policy of unrestricted Internet access.

(I also zipped through this long-form about rare book theft last week, which has some hilariously botched sting operations, among other things.)

Let me know about your program in the comments — does your project management class discuss insurance, appraisals, and liability? Do you talk about salaries and working conditions in the field, and delve into issues of gender parity and harassment, workplace health and safety (like breathing mould), or academic rights and freedoms? Could you write an acceptable term paper on the issues surrounding the indexing and return of looted art (and how linked data could aid this work in the future)? Or the contract issues around hiring an independent conservator? Or what happens when collections merge, as in the Corcoran, or the Glenbow? Or a comparative look at legal environments for cultural heritage work across the world?

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