Protecting cultural property on the Internet

The Internet has made protecting artistic heritage or cultural property easier.  UNESCO, which has been fighting illegal cultural trafficking for many years, has signed several treaties to safeguard artists, and several international conventions have been agreed upon to protect cultural goods.

Monitoring cultural property on the Internet

While illegal trafficking and downloading are common, the Internet has also supplied weapons in the fight against the illegal trade of cultural property. Law enforcement agencies have been granted free access to online catalogs in order to combat trafficking. Internet platforms have been asked to post disclaimers on cultural property sales pages, including verification of legal export and import of property and the seller’s legal title. Internet platforms must also actively cooperate with international agencies to disclose suspicious sales of protected products and are advised to report violations.

Protecting cultural property from traffickers

The Internet affords immediate communication; therefore, if it is suspected that cultural property has been stolen, an international warning can be issued easily and quickly. Databases and software allow stolen property to be flagged and retrieved when traffickers attempt to sell it, and web crawlers allow images or documents online to be tracked to ensure that artistic heritage is protected and traded legally. Copyrighting work means that the use of cultural property must be authorized. To further protect their work, creators can add a watermark to images, disable right-click saving, add invisible information to work online and offer full downloads of documents, music, or high-resolution images only to paying customers. Digital fingerprinting also hides information on work so that it can be tracked.

In order to best protect cultural property, creators should first decide what they want to share and how they want it used. Choose if the material should be available for download or purchase and if it can be used privately or publicly. Copyright work legally and seek legal advice if copyright is infringed.