Thursday, March 15, 2012

Questions About Provenance of WikiLoot Documents “Silly”?

“Chasing Aphrodite” author Jason Felch has called my questions about the provenance of the source documents for his “WikiLoot” project “silly.” But are they?

Specifically, I asked Mr. Felch on his “Chasing Aphrodite” blog:

“What is the source of these documents? Were they released legally or leaked unofficially? There would be some considerable irony if you are going to hunt looted material with “looted” documents. If the latter, shouldn't the NSPA apply?”

He responded:

“Your crack about nspa and "looted" documents is silly. I know you're used to fighting for your cause in the trenches, but hope you have more constructive thoughts to contribute about WikiLoot soon. We're open to them.”


Yet, Mr. Felch strongly made the point at a recent talk in Washington, D.C., that museums holding artifacts illicitly excavated under Italian or Greek law were holding stolen goods and were subject to potential prosecution by the US Department of Justice under the National Stolen Property Act.


Moreover, the “Chasing Aphrodite” blog has discussed Professor Urice’s article on the subject.


Why wouldn’t the same analysis apply to illicitly obtained Italian and Greek government documents?

WikiLoot is a serious project that deserves some serious questions asked about it. To ask such questions, particularly at the invitation of WikiLoot itself, is not silly.


kyri said...

hi peter,personaly i dont care how they got them as long as they publish them.paul barford is right,so what if anyone can access the database to see if a piece is looted or not,isnt this a good thing?for me as a buyer,it certainly is as i will be doing my due have been calling for all the archives to be published for years,i dont realy understand what your problem is.
if it is the "gotcha" thing that is bothering you ,well that is not going to go away as there are people with access allready,who are going through every auction catalog and dealers inventory.if they are not published things will continue as they are with museums and collectors unwittingly buying looted goods with false provenances but access for all,for me,can only be a good thing.the only people that should be worried are the dealers sitting on pieces that they think may be in the archives.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Well, I've already indicated I don't have a problem with this in principal, what is troubling is the gotcha aspect that even Jason Felch acknowledges is an issue.

This particular blog however relates to issues of double standards, transparency and ends justifies the means thinking. I see even Mr. Barford thinks I have a point. I also note I agreed with him that Dr. King's "Loot Busters" was a good thing too.



Cultural Property Observer said...

Peter, here’s my comment. Please post it for me, as your site doesn’t like me.

Peter, to be clear: What is "silly" is comparing the traffic in looted antiquities to the practice of journalism. You have a reasonable question about the source of our information. As with our reporting for the LA Times and in Chasing Aphrodite, our information was obtained from a wide variety of sources over several years of reporting. Some of it is public record and has come to light through various court cases. Some comes from sources who have asked to remain confidential. Our hope is that users may eventually contribute additional information to the project to expand its reach.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Jason- Thank you. I guess that responds in part, but if this answer came from a museum director and we were talking about “artifacts” rather than “information,” would you be satisfied?

My suggestion would be that to the extent you put up information on the web, you identify its specific source. Use "confidential" if you must, but that will only raise questions of whether it was misappropriated in any fashion.

I would also note that you appear to be confusing journalism with this project, which goes far beyond journalism. I suspect as such no First Amendment protections would attach.