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Week in Review

By Chris Helsel

German Collector Seeks Return of Art Looted by East German Police; New York Collector Sues to Retain Ownership

It appears that the Nazis were not the only German authorities guilty of stealing precious works of art.

A New York family has brought suit in German court, asking a judge to affirm its rightful ownership of a still life masterpiece allegedly stolen in 1982 by East German police. The painting, a 1705 still life by the Dutch artist Adriaen Coorte depicting four chestnuts, is one of approximately 2,000 that were stolen from Dresden art collector Helmuth Meissner in a police raid ordered by government authorities. Prior to the commencement of litigation, attorneys representing the Meissners had sought to resolve the situation amicably. When negotiations broke down, attorneys representing the late June D. Weldon, a New York philanthropist, filed suit in Munich, claiming the painting was purchased in good faith and that no evidence definitively established Mr. Meissner's ownership claim. Further, the suit alleges, even if the painting were taken from Mr. Meissner, its seizure was the lawful action of the government in power at the time.

The East German police force, known as the Stasi, reportedly seized more than 200,000 objects from collectors between 1973 and 1989 as part of a broad government effort to secure Western currency through the sale of art. The program aimed to bolster the Soviet-backed Communist state's sluggish economy by re-selling the art through brokers in Western Europe because the East German currency, the Mark, held little value in foreign trade. At the time, East German authorities declared that numerous art collectors were "dealers" who had not paid the required taxes on their art. The seizures were therefore done under the supposed color of law as sham tax forfeiture proceedings.

German officials are now discussing whether to add Stasi-confiscated items to the country's Lost Art Internet Database alongside the infamous Nazi-looted art.

Records indicate that the seized still life was shipped to Amsterdam in 1988, where it was sold to a Swiss gallery. It was then re-sold to American collector Henry H. Weldon (June D. Weldon's husband). Despite the exacting paper trail left by East German authorities and a 1982 photograph taken during the raid showing the painting hanging on Mr. Meissner's wall, Mrs. Weldon's representatives insist that Mr. Meissner has no right to the piece.


NFL Running Back Ray Rice Wins Appeal of Domestic Violence Suspension, Eligible to Return Immediately

Ray Rice, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, has successfully appealed his NFL-imposed indefinite suspension. The suspension, which stemmed from a highly publicized domestic violence altercation with his then-fiancée, had been increased from two games to indefinite following the public release of video footage of the incident. Following NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to increase the suspension (which coincided with the Ravens' decision to terminate his employment contract), Rice and his legal team appealed, claiming that the commissioner had acted arbitrarily in enforcing the league's personal conduct policy.

Rice and his then-fiancée (now wife), Janay Palmer, met with the commissioner in June, following Rice's indictment on charges of third-degree aggravated assault. Charges were ultimately dropped after Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversion program. According to Commissioner Goodell, Rice was not entirely forthcoming at this disciplinary hearing, and the details of the incident were unclear. When security footage of Rice punching Ms. Palmer in the face inside an Atlantic City casino elevator surfaced, the commissioner drastically increased the suspension, alleging that Rice's version of events at the disciplinary hearing was inconsistent with what appeared on the video.

Rice, however, alleged that he confessed to striking his fiancée in the face, and was entirely truthful at the meeting. The league office, Rice argued, knew full well what had transpired, and overreacted to the public outcry following the video's release by imposing the indefinite suspension. Therefore, Rice argued, he was improperly punished twice for the same act or conduct, without any new substantive evidence. Rice has also filed a grievance against the Ravens for the improper termination of his contract.

Under the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the commissioner has the sole power to determine discipline under the player conduct policy, as well as to hear any appeal. Here, however, because the commissioner was directly involved in the proceedings and therefore an essential witness, the league and players' union agreed to name a third party neutral arbitrator to hear the appeal.

That neutral arbitrator, former Southern District of N.Y. Judge Barbara S. Jones, released her ruling last Friday. She concluded that the union had carried its burden of showing that Rice did not mislead the commissioner at the disciplinary hearing, and that the commissioner had therefore acted arbitrarily by imposing a second suspension based on the same incident and same known facts. As a result, Rice's indefinite suspension was vacated, and he is free to sign with any NFL team.

Importantly, Judge Jones did not rule that the indefinite suspension was too severe of a punishment - only that the commissioner had overstepped his bounds by disciplining a player twice based on the same conduct and same known facts. In fact, she noted that had the commissioner simply suspended Rice indefinitely from the outset, an arbitrator would have been "hard pressed" to overturn it. According to Judge Jones: "[A]ny failure on the part of the League to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice's description of the event but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence. That the League did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely."

Questions abound as to what NFL executives knew, and when. Commissioner Goodell has insisted that he had not seen the elevator video prior to its release, nor knew of its contents. Judge Jones' opinion indicates that she was convinced the commissioner had not seen the video. Former F.B.I. director Robert S. Mueller III is currently in the midst of an independent, NFL-ordered investigation of the league's handling of the matter.


Lincoln Center Decides That Perpetuity Has Its Limits

In 1973, music philanthropist Avery Fisher gave $10.5 million to Lincoln Center for the repair of Philharmonic Hall, with the stipulation that his name would attach to the building in perpetuity. Recent developments, however, have left observers reaching for their dictionaries.

Lincoln Center agreed last month to pay Mr. Fisher's descendants $15 million for permission to expunge his name from the building, in hopes of luring a much larger donor willing to subsidize a proposed $500 million renovation.

"Perpetuity is usually a matter of negotiation now," said Mr. Fisher's attorney, William D. Zabel.

This development raises the ethical dilemma of whether donors should accept a time limit on naming rights, in an effort to be even more charitable. Billionaire businessman and philanthropist David H. Koch, who recently gave $100 million to the New York State Theater and $65 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, agreed that his name could be removed after a set number of years with his family retaining the right of first refusal. "A naming opportunity should be a defined length of time to allow the institution to regenerate itself with another round of major fund-raising," Mr. Koch said.


EU Law Says Reproducing Eiffel Tower Night Photos Illegal - Light Display Constitutes "Art Work"

Paris' Eiffel Tower, one of the world's most iconic monuments, is visited and photographed by millions of tourists every year. However, it turns out that an obscure EU copyright law prohibits the reproduction - which includes sharing on social media - of photos of the tower taken at night. The tower, built in 1889, falls within the public domain, so photographs taken during the day are unprotected by copyright. At night, though, the tower's impressive light display constitutes artwork under EU law, and therefore usage of any images of it requires the permission of the Eiffel Tower's operating company, Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel.

A 2001 EU Information Society directive says that photographs of architectural works in public spaces can be taken and shared free of charge, at any time. The clause is optional, however, and countries including Italy, Belgium and France declined to transpose it into national law. Therefore, sharing photographs of the Eiffel Tower at night without permission can lead to a fine. The Eiffel Tower website states: "Daytime views from the Eiffel Tower are rights-free. However, its various illuminations are subject to author's rights as well as brand rights."

Any readers planning to visit the Roman Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Leaning Tower of Pisa, or (especially) Eiffel Tower over the holidays, take note.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 5, 2014 1:26 PM.

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