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house Bill H.R. 889

Should Congress Protect Foreign Art Collections From Legal Claims?

Argument in favor

Strengthens the ability of U.S. museums to borrow foreign art and cultural artifacts by making it harder for individuals and organizations to claim that art in a collection is theirs. Letting more people see the work is more important than who actually owns it.

Carly's Opinion
This Bill is about works on loan only, not artworks all together. This pretty much allows the US to display more art to more people without going into disputes. Plus it accounts for works taken against international law, so there are cases where works could be returned. The US should not be handling the disputes of others.
Like (4)
Chris's Opinion
These works are safer in museums. Just look at what ISIS has done to world landmarks!
Like (3)
Tommy's Opinion
Art should be seen by as many people as possible.
Like (3)

Argument opposed

The heirs of artists have a right to works taken unjustly, as do private collectors who lost pieces in catastrophes. This bill would have the government supporting pirated goods, while snubbing the rightful owners.

Cary's Opinion
Swiper, no swiping! Let's not reward those who steal from others by protecting them.
Like (9)
Tressa's Opinion
If it doesn't "belong" to us, why would we want it? It just seems grotesque and illegal to play "finders keepers" with priceless art.
Like (6)
Bluevol1976's Opinion
The owners of these works have rights to them. If the owners want to display them later, that decision should be made by them.
Like (5)

What is House Bill H.R. 889?

This bill would block legal claims to artwork on loan to museums and galleries in the U.S. from abroad. 

The bill would make it so that the actions of an art dealer or foreign country exhibiting work in the U.S. would not be considered “commercial activity,” providing that said art meet the following qualifications:

  • The work is brought into the U.S. for display purposes;
  • The President or a proxy deems that the works are culturally significant or that their display is in the national interest;
  • Notice has been published in the Federal Register.

Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a foreign government has to be engaged in commercial activity in the U.S. for it to be sue-able. As the Congressional Budget Office explains: 

"Under current law, works of art loaned by foreign governments generally are immune from certain decisions made by federal courts and cannot be confiscated as long as the President, or the President’s designee, determines that display of the works is in the national interest. However, commercial activity in which foreign governments are engaged does not have immunity in federal courts."

This legislation would clarify that importing a work of art into the U.S. just to show in a museum or other gallery for a temporary amount of time, is not a commercial activity. Thus, these eligible works of art would be immune from seizure.

As with anything, there are exceptions. Works of art would not be immune from seizure if they were taken "in violation of international law." This bill cites specifically any work taken during World War Two by the Nazi government or its collaborators.


Art lovers, people who frequent U.S. art museums, art dealers, foreign governments displaying art in the U.S., U.S. art museums, artist heirs, people who lost collections in catastrophes and their descendants.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 889

The CBO cost estimate found that this bill would have no significant effect on the federal budget.

More Information

In Depth:

This is the bill’s third introduction into Congress. The House passed versions in the 112th and 113th Congresses, but the Senate did not vote on them. Whether the third try is, in fact, a charm, remains to be seen.

Of Note: 

For a long time, the U.S. had a reputation for being a place where it was hard to sue for for ownership of artwork. This started to change, however, in 2005, when painter Kazimir Malevich’s heirs sued a Dutch museum that was showing his work in New York and Houston for ownership.  Though the exhibition had obtained waivers from the State Department, a federal court ruled that Malevich’s heirs could still sue.

That the bill will not grant immunity to art seized by the Nazis isn’t some moralizing, theoretical pose. There’s actually a huge amount of art in the world that was at one point, owned by the Nazis—according to some estimates, the Nazis took about 20% of art in Europe during their reign. Some of this art was owned by Jewish families that lost it as part of the Holocaust, while some was seized as part of Nazi censorship.

The Nazis were not alone, however, in seizing art. In 2012, a Jewish group in New York City tried to fine the Russian government for keeping scrolls which it says were seized in the Russian Revolution. Some critics of this bill have said that it is wrong to only deny the Nazis immunity.


CBO Cost Estimate

2012 Sponsoring Rep. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Press Release

Wikipedia (Previous Bill Version)

Art Law Report (Previous Bill Version)

The New York Times (Previous Bill Version)

Summary by James Helmsworth
(Photo Credit: Flickr user Xiaozhuli


Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

Official Title

To amend chapter 97 of title 28, United States Code, to clarify the exception to foreign sovereign immunity set forth in section 1605(a)(3) of such title.

bill Progress

  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house Passed June 9th, 2015
    Passed by Voice Vote
      house Committees
      Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedFebruary 11th, 2015

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