Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Cuneiform Tablet on eBay - legal dilemma?

A nice big cuneiform tablet sold on eBay last month for £410 (approx. US $680) after a frenzied battle of bids from a starting price of 99p. The UK seller announced that the "tablet is part of a collection of tablets and clay figures purchased in 2013 from an antiquities dealer in Turkey". Before cracking open the bubbly however, the lucky buyer may want to consider two minor drawbacks to their purchase ...

  1. Turkish laws of 1906, 1973 and currently, the Law on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Property of 1983, declare that all antiquities discovered in or on private or public lands in Turkey are the property of the state. Even antiquities not discovered in Turkey itself must be accompanied by a museum certificate before removal from the country. In practice, there is an almost total export ban on antiquities and an ancient cuneiform tablet is likely to have been smuggled out illegally.

  2. Now comes the good(?) news! Neither the seller nor the buyer need lose any sleep over those Turkish laws since they don't apply in this case. The tablet (and almost certainly the other bits and bobs the seller bought in Turkey) is not an antiquity. It's a glaringly obvious modern fake aimed at the gullible tourist market.

Should the buyer eventually discover their purchase is just a piece of tourist tat and feel that £410 is a bit too much to pay for it, they have two options. They can just swallow their pride and live with it, or they can demand a refund through eBay on the grounds that the item was "not as described". Since the item was described as a "large near eastern old clay cuneiform tablet from mesopotamia", the latter option poses a problem. "Mesopotamia" is a bit vague; in its widest sense it can include part of Turkey. The word "old" is all relative; was the seller merely claiming the item was bought a few months ago? It could be argued that the tablet was exactly as described.

Or would the buyer insist on a refund on the grounds that they were under the impression that the tablet was truly ancient, a genuine antiquity smuggled out of Turkey in 2013? Well, of course that angle would be a tacit confession that the buyer was under the impression that they were happily and knowingly acting as a receiver of stolen property. That is a criminal offence in most countries, certainly in the UK.

But hey, perhaps eBay does not have the same conception of legality as the rest of us and would uphold a refund based on the premise that the description was misleading. It would be interesting to know the outcome if a dispute is raised. In the meantime, we can all relax in the knowledge that many eBay buyers are cluelessly gobbling up tourist tat rather than encouraging looting by buying the real thing.

5 comments:

Ben Dolley said...

The seller has another tablet up for sale at the moment.

Andy Baines said...

Ouch, £410 down the pan.

David Knell said...

Yup. Sadly, I don't feel much sympathy!

David Knell said...

A "set"(!) of two in fact. Both equally fake.

Ben Dolley said...

i like how everything is described as 'genuine'

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