Sealaska sues Nieman Marcus for allegedly using Native design in $2,500 coat

Clarissa Rizals’ heirs registered the design for this robe with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2019 and exclusively licensed it to Sealaska Heritage Institute. SHI filed a lawsuit against Nieman Marcus on April 20, 2020. (Sealaska Heritage Institute)

Sealaska Heritage Institute has filed a federal lawsuit against the high-end fashion retailer Neiman Marcus, alleging the company copied a traditional Ravenstail pattern when it produced a coat that retails for more than $2,500.

In a press release, Sealaska Heritage’s president Rosita Worl called it “one of the most blatant examples of cultural appropriation and copyright infringement” she’d ever seen.

This case is thought to be the first time a business has been sued in the U.S. for copying a traditional indigenous pattern.

The lawsuit alleges Neiman Marcus violated the Indian Arts and Craft Act, which ensures products marketed as Native American or Native Alaskan are authentic.

Neiman Marcus referred to the garment on its website as a “ravenstail knitted coat.”

The lawsuit also alleges the fashion company violated copyright laws. The coat looks similar to a robe protected by copyright and created by the late master weaver, Clarissa Rizal.

Reuters is reporting that Neiman Marcus could file for bankruptcy protection as soon as this week, due to store closures and lost revenue during the pandemic.

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