Native nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute filed a lawsuit against Neiman Marcus, the luxury department store chain. In their lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court, the nonprofit claimed copyright infringement and unlawful use of the term “Ravenstail.” They allege that the garment sold by Neiman Marcus looks like a traditional Alaskan Ravenstail robe, and that it features a replica of a copyright-protected design.
SHI President Rosita Worl called it a “blatant example of cultural appropriation and copyright infringement.” The Ravenstail style of weaving is one of the more prominent art forms that use hand-twined textiles, found in indigenous Alaskan cultures. These robes have deep spiritual and cultural significance to Alaska’s native tribes in the northwestern coastal region. According to the claimants, Neiman Marcus was aware of the problem but did not take any action.
This is not the first time a company has copied native designs and art without permission, but it is the first time they have been sued for copyright infringement in the U.S. under the law of copyright protection.