Alaskan Native Group and Neiman Marcus Settle Lawsuit Over Copyrighted “Ravenstail” Design Dress

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JUNEAU – An Alaska Native cultural organization and luxury department store Neiman Marcus have settled a lawsuit over the sale of a coat with a copyrighted geometric pattern borrowed from Native culture.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute said in a statement Wednesday that the two sides, including 11 other defendants in addition to Neiman Marcus, have agreed to terms “to resolve all disputes between them under US and Tlingit law,” KTOO reported. Public Media.

The Juneau-based institute is the cultural arm of Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native Society for the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples of Southeast Alaska.

In a federal lawsuit filed in April 2020, the institute argued that the Dallas-based retailer falsely tied the $ 2,555 “Ravenstail” coat to Indigenous artists from the northwest coast of California to Alaska by through the design and use of the term Ravenstail. Sealaska said it discovered the retailer was selling the coat in 2019.

The institute in its lawsuit said the term and style Ravenstail had been associated with the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes for hundreds of years. According to the lawsuit, the coat also mimics a Ravenstail dress created by a Tlingit weaver nearly a quarter of a century ago.

The lawsuit claims that Neiman Marcus violated the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act requiring that products marketed as “Indian” be in fact made by indigenous peoples.

Neither Neiman Marcus nor his Alaska-based attorneys in the lawsuit immediately responded to Associated Press emails seeking comment.

Sealaska claimed that the Neiman Marcus dress violated the copyright of Clarissa Rizal, a master weaver who created the Ravenstail dress in 1996. Upon her death in 2016, her family obtained the rights to the dress, said the Sealaska lawyer, Jacob Adams.

In 2019, Rizal’s heirs registered the dress with the U.S. copyright office, according to the lawsuit. The copyright was then granted exclusively to Sealaska.

Adams told public radio station Juneau that the terms of the settlement were confidential, but some of its effects may become public.

“There are conditions that are met to meet the aspect of Tlingit law and the aspect of cultural requirements,” Adams said. “So, in the future, some things could be considered as the result of the settlement.”


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