Cultures and Cultural Property


James O. Young, Department of Philosophy, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 3045, Victoria, B.C., V8W 3P4, Canada.


abstract In a number of contexts one comes across the suggestion that cultures are collective owners of cultural property, such as particularly significant works of art. Indigenous peoples are often held to be collective owners of cultural property, but they are not the only ones. Icelandic culture is said to have a claim on the Flatejarbók and Greek culture is held to own the Parthenon Marbles. In this paper I investigate the conditions under which a culture is the rightful owner of cultural property. I argue against the claims that cultures inherit cultural property. I also argue that a culture's claim to own cultural property is seldom, if ever, founded on either practices employed in the culture or collective production of cultural property. I maintain, however, that the very value of cultural property for some culture can, in some instances, provide the basis for the culture's claim on the property.