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  • Laurens Kasteleijn

Amsterdam cracks down on art and antique dealers

April 2022 – by Dameni Hoogenhout & Laurens Kasteleijn for Art Law Services

Last month, galleries in Amsterdam, the Netherlands felt the pressure of a fast-paced digitalized world. As society is becoming more and more digitized and digitalized, the art world should naturally follow suit...correct? Teams of policemen inspecting the galleries in the nation’s capital seem to agree.

The Amsterdam antiques quarter, het Spiegelkwartier

Last March, uniformed policemen showed up in galleries and antique shops in Amsterdam to warn and inform dealers - and clients present - that they must register at the DOR (Digital Buyers' Register or Digitaal Opkoper Register in Dutch)[1] and digitally file all transactions going back as far as November 2016 - or risk a fine of € 2,100 or imprisonment of up to six (6) months.

The rules for registering are not new, dating back as far as 1886. Since then, the Dutch Penal Code (Wetboek van Strafrecht) stipulates that a buyer of second-hand goods, majority of which are art traders and antiques dealers, must keep a continuous and certified 'Buyers Register' of all items purchased. This listing must consist of at least the following information: (a) the date on which the goods were acquired; (b) a description of the goods which should be as specific as possible; (c) the price; and (d) the name and address of the seller of the goods. The personal data provided by the seller must be verified by means of checking their IDs. The only difference now is that this has moved to an online platform: the Digital Buyers’ Register.

The Digital Buyers' Register was developed in 2011 by the Dutch police. In 2017, the Ministry of Justice and Security (Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid) started a legislative process to make the use of the DOR legally mandatory all across the Netherlands. By municipal order, the city of Amsterdam is said to have implemented the DOR, making it mandatory as of November 2, 2016, but this rule has never been strictly enforced, until recently. For art and antique dealers this basically means leaving a sizeable stack of paperwork behind and creating digitalized versions of them - simply put, all transactions and folders must now be accessible online.

We have recently seen an increase in Anti- Money Laundering legislation and enforcement in the Dutch art market. Clearly being targeted are professional buyers of antiques, artifacts, and other second-hand goods, and generally, they do not seem pleased. Most dealers who got caught in this raid were not amused by the show of force by the local Amsterdam police.

We ourselves witnessed such an 'interchange' with the police during one of our gallery visits. It was unnerving to say the least. Not only does it feel too severe, but it can also raise questions: one of them being ''are these measures even necessary and justified for all parties concerned?"

Issues with Implementation

For most dealers, implementing these new regulations can pose as a challenge. However, times have changed, and they are somewhat 'forced' to keep up. Majority of the existing and active antique dealers are over 65 years+ old. They have been in the trade for a substantial amount of time, decades to say the least, and are used to their usual way of navigating and running their businesses. We also ask: how willing are they to adopt? And is it fair for them to even do so?

In the past, paperwork and/or handshake deals have always been the norm in the art world. The digitalization of society and the new measures can potentially create distrust between artists and dealers. Do the dealers even have a say in this and are their concerns heard? Can they still operate their business how they want to? Antique dealers have piles of registration papers dating back decades. Registering all of them online shall take up considerable time and effort.

There are multiple impractical implications stemming from this. Firstly, the current DOR system has been developed with serial numbers in mind. However, this is not applicable to most artworks and artifacts, as they were not previously tagged with a serial number. The Dutch government is currently working on implementing legislation that allows uploading images in the DOR.

Secondly, the scope of this can potentially overwhelm the DOR database and systems. Let's say all antique dealers mandatory filed their items within this year - is the DOR ready for a tsunami of uploads of un-numbered items into their systems? Will this then create more problems instead?

Thirdly, privacy and online security are extremely important issues. Will all registered information online be secure? If buyers must register sensitive information such as names and addresses of the sellers, they would need an assurance of absolute cyber safety. At the moment, their paperwork and folders are safe in their offices and 'rolodexes', digitalizing everything surely opens it up to cyber risks and being vulnerable to hacking and identity theft, among others. Criminals can hack into the DOR and retrieve potential burglary targets for example. Questions remain unanswered. While measures can be forced upon antique dealers thru intimidation by the police, the DOR will not function as it is intended to if antique dealers do not believe or trust in these measures.

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Notes: [1]

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