An indigenous cultural organization in Southeast Alaska is suing luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, claiming the Dallas-based company violated copyright and protection laws for Native American arts by selling a knit coat with a geometric pattern borrowed from native culture.
In the federal lawsuit filed Monday, the Sealaska Heritage Institute maintains that the retailer falsely affiliated the $ 2,555 “Ravenstail” coat with Native artists of the Northwest Coast through the design and use of the term Ravenstail.
The plaintiffs say that the term and style Ravenstail have been associated for hundreds of years with the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes. According to the lawsuit, the coat also mimics a Ravenstail coat created by a Tlingit weaver nearly a quarter of a century ago.
“For a very long time, they were seen as some kind of resource that anyone can use,” Adams said. “And it goes beyond inspiration to become outright violation.”
Representatives for Neiman Marcus did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Nieman Marcus has 43 stores in the United States, none in Alaska.
Sealaska says it discovered the retailer was selling the coat in 2019.
According to the lawsuit, Neiman Marcus violated India’s Arts and Crafts Law which requires that products marketed as “Indian” be in fact made by indigenous peoples. The Juneau-based nonprofit works to preserve and enhance the culture of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes of Southeast Alaska.
Sealaska also says that the Neiman Marcus dress infringes the copyright of Clarissa Rizal, a deceased master weaver who created the Ravenstail dress in 1996. Upon her death in 2016, her family obtained the rights to the dress, Adams said. .
Rizal’s heirs last year registered the dress with the U.S. copyright office, according to the lawsuit. The copyright was then exclusively licensed to Sealaska, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs seek an injunction prohibiting Neiman Marcus or the parent companies from selling the coat, as well as unspecified compensatory, punitive and other damages.