Many people understand that a song or a painting may be subject to copyright, but the fact is that many different kinds of artistic works can be protected in this area of the law. Clothing designers in New York may also be able to file for a copyright, especially if they create a piece with a certain logo or design. This is what one nonprofit says in their lawsuit against retail giant Neiman Marcus. It alleges that the company unlawfully used the design of a weaver that was protected by copyright law.
The lawsuit says that Neiman Marcus used the design of a Native artist without permission. The family of the artist, who is no longer alive, says she created the pattern and robe for which they now own the rights. They filed a copyright last year and only allowed the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to promote Alaskan Native culture, to use the design. Neiman Marcus is accused of taking that design and replicating it in a robe, “Ravenstail,” that is being sold for more than $2,500 online.
There is no word on a response from Neiman Marcus. The Sealaska Heritage Institute wants the company to stop selling the garment and is seeking damages. The institute says this is an example of cultural appropriation as well as an infringement on copyright. The Institute intends to invest any damages in an endowment for arts and culture as well as sharing it with the artist’s family.
Though this is an unusual example of copyright law, it is no less important. Designers and artists in all mediums deserve to be fairly compensated for the usage of their creations. Those here in New York who have questions about how copyright law might protect their work can consult an attorney with extensive experience in this area.