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'From Global Databases to Global Norms? The Case of Cultural Property Law'

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From Global Databases to Global Norms? The Case of Cultural Property Law


Professor Amnon Lehavi


February 2023



This Article identifies the key role that digital databases with global access can play in bridging over significant disparities between national legal systems. Such global databases can be utilized for the resolution of cross-border disputes that involve case- specific challenges of fact-finding, as well as for the interpretation of legal terms such as “good faith,” “due diligence,” or “due care.” More fundamentally, the existence of transparent, reliable, and globally accessible databases, which enable public and private actors from different jurisdictions to both register data and retrieve it, can bring legal systems closer in reconsidering the underlying normative principles that govern various legal fields that had been traditionally typified by cross-border legal differences. This Article seeks to show that the natural flow of information through global databases can have significant implications in mitigating certain ill- effects of legal disparities across national legal systems, without undermining the general power of countries to promote local goals and values.

To illustrate the potential of global databases to gradually bring closer national legal systems, or to facilitate the creation of new ‘soft law’ or ‘hard law’ cross-border norms, this Article focuses on recent developments in the national and supranational legal regimes concerning cultural property. Particularly, it looks at the growing influence that such global databases may have on rules and procedures concerning the restitution or return of cultural objects— such as artwork or archaeological artifacts—that have been stolen, looted, or illicitly exported across national borders. It shows how such global databases can foster a better enforcement of current legal instruments, such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on cultural property, while creating a basis for future cross-border substantive and procedural norms.

For helpful comments and suggestions, I thank Alexander Herman, Cristina PonciboĢ€, Marina Schneider, Matthias Weller, and participants at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Association for Law, Property, and Society (ALPS) and the conference on “Due Diligence, Digital Databases, and Cultural Property Law & Policy” at Reichman University, March 2022. All errors are mine.

To read the article, see PDF here, or visit


U. Pa. J. Int'l L. Vol. 44:2

Published by Penn Carey Law: Legal Scholarship Repository,

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