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Harvey Manes MD

Introduction - Article by Harvey Manes MD

This article will discuss the confusing legal landscape of art theft and fraud and propose some solutions that address this growing problem. Art theft and fraud have risen alarmingly over the past few decades and estimates reveal that the problem is costing the world economy billions of dollars. The current laws governing stolen or fraudulent works of art are confusing, contradictory and may vary from one jurisdiction to the next. As a result, innocent parties are not properly protected. Frequently, the plaintiff and defendant are from different states or countries, and the artwork might be located at yet a third location. While one jurisdiction may be more protective of the original owner or seller of a piece another court may be more protective of the good faith buyer. Since the days of Hammurabi, scholars have grappled with the issue of who has superior title as between the good faith purchaser (hereafter-GFP) and the original owner. Children have attempted to clarify this issue by reciting the adage "finders keepers, loses weepers." It is the author’s contention, that there are serious flaws in the current system and much could be done to update the national and international legal code as it applies to these issues.

Art fraud involves the creation of a work of art that copies the style of a well-known artist with the intent to deceive the buyer and profit from the deception. The forger succeeds in this endeavor if he is able to fool established experts in the field such as museum curators, conservators, and sophisticated dealers into believing the work is by an acknowledged master. Finally, the GFP buys the piece and then frequently bears the financial burden of the hoax because he assumes that the experts can be relied upon to distinguish an original from a fake. Once the fraud is discovered, the courts are asked to decide who should sustain the monetary loss, the GFP or the innocent but mistaken dealer. Occasionally, the dealer actually conspires to perpetrate the fraud and if caught will deny his involvement. It is difficult to prove that the dishonest dealer had knowledge of the deception. To make matters worse, when a victim is duped he will frequently not report the crime. "In the art world, crying "fake" is surprisingly difficult… few people are willing to burn bridges by speaking out."

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Harvey Manes, M.D.

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