The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today dismissed the petition to rehear en banc last year’s landmark ruling that the heirs of the art dealers who sold the Guelph Treasure (or Welfenschatz) may pursue their claims in U.S. federal court. Defendants the Federal Republic of Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (the SPK, or Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in English) had argued that claims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s expropriation exception such as these are not violations of international law and also require a claimant to exhaust remedies abroad, a position rejected by prior decisions of the D.C. Circuit and by today’s ruling as well.
Today’s decision confirms the first-of-its kind holding last year that a German state museum must face claims based on allegations of Nazi-looted art, a direct result of Germany’s failures through its so-called Advisory (often called Limbach) Commission to address seriously and comprehensively the state of Nazi-looted art in its national collections. In the five years since denying the Guelph Treasure claimants any meaningful attention, Germany has fumbled through the Gurlitt fiasco and attempted other various distractions like its new fitful attention to colonial art (with no real progress there either). Germany has repeatedly disparaged my clients by suggesting that the matter was already "decided on the merits" before Germany's Advisory Commission. This is false. The Advisory Commission renders non-binding recommendations to state museums and has been roundly criticized for its opinions in 2014 and 2015 in particular, when my clients were denied justice. There is no small irony in having to explain this in the context of Germany's request for a do-over after last year's ruling.
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act,
Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz,
Boy Leading a Horse,
Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation,
Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act,
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin,
Last year, the Ninth Circuit stood out amongst fair use decisions in its opinion in Seltzter v. Green Day, particularly in contrast to what has persuasively been dubbed the Second Circuit’s "know it when we see it" approach to transformativeness as annunciated in the Cariou v. Prince decision. By contrast, the potentially destabilizing effect of the Ninth Circuit’s highest profile copyright case in 2014 can scarcely be overstated. Unless and until the full court reverses a three-judge panel in Garcia v. Google, Inc., nearly every motion picture will be in peril of "infringement." The consequences for the First Amendment and for free expression would be devastating. Although it was not raised, expect fair use to come into play if the decision stands and the case heads back to the trial court. The film is clearly transformative precisely because the plaintiff argues that her performance was unknowingly changed in service of a message she found offensive.
Prince v. Cariou,
Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
Innocence of Muslims,
Seltzter v. Green Day,
Nothing Compares 2 U,
17 U.S.C. § 106,
work for hire