[meteorite-list] NOT [OT]

From: Robert Verish <bolidechaser_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:48:11 2004
Message-ID: <20011013002032.91652.qmail_at_web10405.mail.yahoo.com>

Hello List,

The recent thread about pending legislation to further
restrict fossil collecting may not be as much
Off-Topic as we would like it to be. But the less put
in print about this subject, the better.

But what has been put in print (and is much more
On-Topic), is an abstract for a poster that was
presented at the recent meeting in Rome - the
64th Annual Meteoritical Society Meeting (2001).
The author is not a meteoriticist, but a lawyer!

Is anybody surprised that this law firm is from

This abstract is now published in:

MAPS, Vol. 36, No. 9, Supplement, 2001 - A183

It still appears "on-line" at:


D. G. Schmitt,
McEwen, Schmitt & Co. Barristers and Solicitors,
1615 – 1055 W. Georgia St.,
Vancouver, B.C.,
email: dgs_at_marinelawcanada.com

Introduction: Increased public awareness and commerce
in meteorites raises questions about their ownership
and control. This paper reviews the law in several
countries, international law, and considers laws to
bring finds to the research community quickly and not
divert them to a black market. A survey was made of
scientists involved in meteorite acquisition in over
20 countries, to determine how well various systems
Ownership is determined by the law of the place of the
find. Legal regimes range from a free market, to
state ownership with no compensation to finders. A
market gives an incentive to searchers but allows
ownership by private collectors who do not curate
specimens scientifically.

Confiscatory laws tempt searchers to conceal or sell
finds illegally, or misrepresent strewn field data.
Scientists expressed diverging views on an ideal

Historical Background: Meteorite ownership law is
non-uniform. English common law, from which the law in
former British colonies including the United States
evolved, provides that meteorites are the landowner’s
property; buried meteorites might be part of the
mineral rights. Find reporting is not mandatory. Most
Western European countries, and former colonies, have
civil codes providing that meteorites are owned by the
landowner. Traditional legal systems with unique rules
exist, such as the Islamic Sharia. In many countries
legislation aimed at preserving archeological
modifies earlier meteorite law.

Federal nations may have different laws in each state.
Lawyers qualified in the find jurisdiction should be
consulted for ownership opinions.

Selected Examples:

Argentina. The Chaco Province constitution declares
meteorites provincial property, imposing a duty to
protect them.

Australia. Some state legislation vests ownership in
state museums, prohibits find movement except delivery
to museums, and allows refunds of finder’s expenses.

Canada. Meteorites are the property of the landowner
and can be sold. Under the Cultural Property Export
Import Act a Canadian find cannot be exported without
permit from a federal Board which may impose a
six-month delay of permanent export during which a
Canadian institution may purchase it for a “fair”
price, failing which export is allowed. Temporary
export permits are granted forthwith.

Denmark. Finds are state property, and must be
surrendered to a museum, which pays market value.

India. Meteorites are deemed owned by the Geological
Survey of India, without compensation.

Japan. The finder is the owner under the civil code.
Switzerland. Finds are owned by the state but the
finder is paid compensation not higher than the
object’s value.

United States of America. A find is owned by the
A find on federal government property is owned by
the Department of the Interior but may be acquired by
the Smithsonian Institution.

UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting
and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer
of Ownership of Cultural Property: This Convention,
ratified by over 90 states, provides for tracking and
retrieving from reciprocating states, cultural
property including meteorites.

Ratifying states may create a permitting agency like

Antarctic Meteorites: The Antarctic Treaty
defers national territorial claims and encourages
cooperative scientific exploration. Article III (B)
states, “scientific observations and results from
Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely
available”. The Treaty does not deal with samples
exported. Meteorites are recovered only by
sponsored expeditions, and curated by NASA in the
United States, the National Institute of Polar
Research in Japan, and by EUROMET. Applications for
U.S. curated
samples are reviewed by the Meteorite Working Group.
Conclusions: Meteorite ownership law varies widely.
Generally survey respondents reported cooperation from
finders, to whom some compensation was paid whether
required or not; however there were incidents of
important meteorites, or find data, being lost to
science. The best system for each country depends on
the relationship between each government and its
citizens. Governments should be urged to enact
workable laws appropriate to their jurisdiction to (1)
encourage collection by providing reasonable
to finders, with mandatory find reporting, (2) create
efficient export permitting systems allowing exchange
of research samples, and (3) retrieve illegally
exported meteorites under the UNESCO Convention.

Acknowledgments: All survey respondents particularly
Bevan, B. Hofmann, H. Haack, and H. Plotkin; G. R.
Schmitt, Q.C.

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Received on Fri 12 Oct 2001 08:20:32 PM PDT

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