How Is Art Theft Different from Other Types of Theft?

classic art on a red wall -is art theft different from regular theft

How Is Art Theft Different from Other Types of Theft?

Art is beautiful and is often created to be shared. That’s why destroying, forging, or stealing a work of art is a crime. In the state of Arizona, art theft can have serious consequences that range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the circumstances. We dive into the details below.

Art Theft Is Not Just Stealing

Surprisingly, there are three ways to steal art according to the experts at Sotheby’s (a powerhouse in the art world). Art theft can apply to deception and destruction, as well as larceny. 

Theft by Deception

This type of art theft mainly refers to forgeries. Forgery can be making an exact copy of an original piece, with the intent to pass it off as the original. It can also be manufacturing a work of art and trying to pass it off as a “lost” work by another artist. Theft by deception also includes the forgery of any documentation used to assess the history and validity of a piece of art. 

Theft by Destruction 

In the art world, destruction of art typically describes the ruination of art because of politics or war. However, vandalism, performance art stunts, and other actions can also count as theft by destruction. 

Theft by Larceny

Alright, the title is silly, “theft by theft,” but it is the terminology used when describing art crimes. Theft from personal collections and museums is the most common form of art crime. 

Punishments for Art Crimes

When being charged by the Arizona criminal justice system for an art crime they will not be the titles above. 

Theft by deception falls under Arizona’s white-collar crime for forgery. Charges are dependent on the type of forgery. Documentation forgery is a class 4 felony, which can have up to 15 years in prison. Being in possession of a forged object is a class 6 felony, which can land you over 5 years in prison. With either charge there is the possibility of parole or probation as well as fines, fees, and restitution. 

Theft by destruction would be charged as vandalism, also known as criminal damage. The penalties vary depending on the amount of destruction. For destroying a work of art, you could be charged anywhere from a class 2 misdemeanor to a class 4 felony.  

Theft by larceny is, obviously, charged as larceny. In Arizona this is a class 2 felony, and could lead to 12 years in prison along with fees, fines, and restitution. 

If You Are Charged With a Crime, You Need a Lawyer

If you are facing charges related to an art crime, you need a certified criminal defense attorney. Felony convictions can cause enormous upheaval in your life, from spending time behind bars to struggling to find housing and a job after prison. However, an experienced attorney can help ensure the best possible outcome for your case. 

Todd Coolidge has over 25 years of experience in the Arizona court system and knows the importance of giving each case the time and personal attention it deserves. Contact us today for a consultation on your case.




Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/7/24). Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.