Should cultural property taken by a stronger power or nation remain with that country or should it be returned to the place where it was created? Since the 1990s this question has received growing attention from the press, the public and the international legal community. For example, prestigious institutions such as the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have agreed to return looted or stolen artwork or antiquities. British smuggler Jonathan Tokeley-Parry was convicted and served three years in prison for his role in removing as many as 2,000 antiquities from Egypt. Getty director Marion True defended herself against charges that she knowingly bought antiquities that had been illegally excavated from Italy and Greece. New books on the issue of repatriation of art and antiquities have captured the attention of the public. A documentary based on one of these books was shown in theaters and aired on public television. The first international academic symposium on the topic was convened in New York City in January 1995.

These events signify a shift away from the historic tradition of plunder and theft, and evidence a move to protect and repatriate cultural property. However, efforts to reclaim and return stolen or looted artifacts face complex issues. First, there is ongoing debate about what approach should be taken with respect to a country’s ownership of cultural property. Second, the process itself requires delicate cooperation among government, law enforcement, museums, and antiquities dealers and frequently includes transactions where there are gaps in historical records. Finally, there is a tangled web of both local and international laws covering the subject.

What follows is a brief introduction to the topic and a list of resources. The summary is by no means exhaustive: it is based on a talk given at the International Association of Law Librarians in Istanbul, Turkey in 2010.