Reassessment of the Illegal Movement of Antiquities: Exposing Regulatory Gaps Posed by the Development of Social Media and Blockchain

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: School of Law


The research proposed aims to tackle how technological advancements influence the illegal movement of cultural artefacts on the market for antiquities. The project shall concentrate on the chain of sale as altered by the development of social media supported by blockchain technology. The research will identify regulatory gaps and shortcomings within international and domestic legislation preventing transnational cooperation of enforcement bodies. The jurisdictional spectrum will cover Iraq and Italy as two source markets exemplifying contrasting regulatory levels and the United Kingdom and the United States as destination markets. Examining illegal sale from the perspective of technological advancements will offer the possibility of identifying appropriate deterrent measures to prevent such transactions and, in the long term, allow to protect cultural heritage effectively.

Problem and Importance
The existent preventive measures created with the on-ground trafficking in mind are not applicable to the chain of sale as altered by the usage of social media and blockchain. The regulatory bodies tend to focus on establishing measures disrupting the three-stage market chain, leaving the digital space open for the flow of cultural commodities (Fedotov, 2017). Private social media platforms prevent any relevant users data from being collected due to the personal privacy requirements. As a result, lack of public transparency averts assumption of responsibility and adequate governmental intervention. Moreover, by facilitating mass communication, the extent of potential buyers and, consequently, demand for antiquities
has grown considerably. Such a state of matters has allowed social networking sites to acquire a discretionary power over the art market. The information flow and subsequent increased advertising capabilities has promoted engaging blockchain and cryptocurrencies to conduct sales tracelessly. As digital currencies have been designed to remain outside the governmental regulations, the existent legislative measures are insufficient to prevent illegal movement of cultural commodities. Socio-legal outcomes for the art market have shifted by turning a wired world into a mature virtualized society. Hence, re-identifying the consequences, not using generalised and outmoded data, is needed to support resolving
pending legal issues around illegal antiquities movement.

Empirical research shall be undertaken comprising quantitative and qualitative methods such as historical outline, case study, observation and interview. Historical research will attempt to understand the dynamics of illegal trade by looking into past events in order to determine established patterns of behaviour among consumers of cultural commodities. In effect, identifying shortcomings of regulations will reveal appropriate cases to examine. Subsequently, case study shall look into individual instances of illicit movements from Iraq and Italy to the United States and United
Kingdom, in order to examine causes for the phenomena and holistic approach to the issue. Engagement with social media platforms by collecting data on users establishing contact on these sites will enable identification of communication dispersion methods. Empirical research will be conducted on a representative group of social media and blockchain companies by means of direct interviews with professionals involved in self-regulation of these firms. Moreover, questioning law enforcement bodies engaged in the protection of cultural heritage, followed by the data analysis, will enable uncovering relationships between individuals, or organisations, and sellers.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2268267 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Natalia Olszowy