What is Cultural Property Law?

Cultural Property Law

What is Cultural Property Law?Cultural property law protects buildings, artifacts, and other items that are important to a people and their heritage. Cultural property refers to the collection of rare and personal property that is meaningful to a culture.

The team of competent and caring lawyers at SBEMP (Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney) law firm provides professional legal advice and services to clients in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Inland Empire, Orange County, San Diego, New Jersey, New York, and surrounding locations.


Inclusions in Cultural Property

The following may be included in cultural property:

  • Cultural buildings such as museums and performing arts centers
  • Ancient buildings
  • Religious and ceremonial artifacts
  • Historical edifices such as old houses
  • Important sites such as burial grounds and historic sites
  • Ancient remains
  • Other ancient relics


Cultural Property Law is Civil as well as Criminal

The area of cultural property law encompasses civil as well as criminal law. Sometimes the blatant theft of personal property is a criminal issue in which the offender may face imprisonment and fine.

In other cases, the enforcement of cultural property law involves civil law. This may include drafting and filing a civil claim for the restoration of the property. Attorneys practicing cultural property law may focus entirely on civil actions or criminal prosecutions. Conversely, they may come into contact with cultural property law as a part of a more extensive practice.  


The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 refer to a US law that instructs federal bodies and federally funded state and local organizations to restore cultural artifacts belonging to Native Americans to their descendants and related tribes.

This law is overseen by US Secretary of the Interior, and there are federal grant funds to assist in the compliance of agencies. People involved in Native American human remains or cultural artifact trafficking without ownership of the items may face up to one-year imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.


Larceny of Major Artwork

The Federal Theft of Major Artwork law aims to protect cultural property. It makes the theft of major pieces of artwork from a US museum unlawful which can result in the offender facing ten years in federal prison and a fine.

The stolen artwork must be over 100 years old and worth more than $5,000 to qualify as major artwork. In case the artwork is less than 100 years old, it can still qualify as major if it is valued at over $100,000.


Other Significant Cultural Property Treaties and Legislation

  • Theft of Government Property Act
  • American Resources Protection Act
  • Perjury laws
  • National Stolen Property Act
  • Hobbs Act
  • Obstruction of Justice laws


Challenges in the Protection of Cultural Property

The protection of cultural property presents some unique legal issues. Firstly, it may take years for the stolen item to be recovered. The item may be transferred to many owners in this duration.

Furthermore, lawyers practicing cultural property law should be prepared for continuing jurisdictional challenges. The theft of cultural property usually starts at one location but then goes to another jurisdiction when the item moves across state borders. It can be challenging to work with enforcement agencies and courts both domestically and internationally.


Focused and prudent attorneys at the SBEMP law firm serve clients from Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Inland Empire, Orange County, San Diego, New Jersey, New York, and nearby locations for a range of legal practice areas.

Have any legal questions? Contact SBEMP: 

For more information or to request a consultation please contact the law offices of SBEMP (Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney) by clicking here. 

SBEMP LLP is a full service law firm with attorney offices in Palm Springs (Palm Desert, Inland Empire, Rancho Mirage), CA; Indian Wells, CA; Costa Mesa (Orange County), CA; San Diego, CA; New Jersey, NJ; and New York, NY.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by reading it. This blog post may be considered ATTORNEY ADVERTISING in some states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained within this blog post. Before acting or relying upon any information within this newsletter, seek the advice of an attorney.


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