Alaskan Native art includes arts and crafts that are made by the native peoples of Alaska. Various different types of scams have been perpetrated related to the sale of these types of items.
In many cases, consumers do not take the time to research information regarding what they are buying before they purchase what they believe is Alaskan Native Art.
How Can I Identify Authentic Alaskan Native Art?
The law provides that items that were made after 1935 that are marketed as being “Indian,” “Alaska Native,” or “Native American” must have been made by a recognized tribe or a certified native artisan. In order to become a certified native artisan, an individual is certified by their tribe’s governing body as a non-member artisan.
When a seller uses terms such as, “heritage,” “ancestry,” and “descent” in connection with “Alaskan Native,” the craftsperson may not necessarily be a member of an native tribe or even certified by the tribe. However, these terms must still be honestly used.
What Can I Do to Avoid a Scam?
Alaskan Native art is typically sold in a number of different types of venues. If a purchaser wants to ensure that they are getting what they paid for, they should:
- Ask for a certification tag. Some authentic items will carry a tag with a symbol on it. These symbols, such as a Silver Hand symbol or a Made in Alaska emblem, can assure a buyer that the item is authentic;
- Get any claims that the seller makes about the item’s authenticity in writing; and
- Make sure to get a receipt for any items purchased.
How Can I Tell the Difference between Authentic and Fake Alaskan Native Art?
There are certain things a purchaser can look for when they are trying to determine whether an item is fake or authentic, including:
- Materials: Materials that are commonly used by Alaskan Native artists include:
- walrus ivory;
- animal furs;
- baleen; and
- other marine mammal materials;
- Price: Authentic items can be expensive if they are of high quality craftsmanship; and
- Appearance: If possible, examine the item by picking it up. For example, a purchaser should make sure they are buying stone and not plastic.
What Protections Does Art Have Against Unauthorized Use?
Works of art have various protections against unauthorized use. In 1990, the Visual Artists Rights Act was enacted.
This act provided artists with moral rights. It is important to note that this act only applies to works of visual art.
What Qualifies as a Work of Visual Art?
A work of visual art is a work of fine art so long as that fine art is issued in quantities of less than 200 that are consecutively numbered and signed. This may include:
- Prints; or
In the case of sculptures, it may include multiple carved, cast, or fabricated forms. In addition, photographic images produced for exhibition purposes only are also included.
What Are Moral Rights?
Moral rights are the rights of attribution and integrity. These are rights that can only be waived in writing by the artist.
The right of attribution is the right of an artist to be known as the author of their work. It also means that their name cannot be used as the author of any work that they did not create.
The right of integrity is the right of the artist to have their name removed from a work they did not create in the event that the work is distorted or otherwise changed.
What Kinds of Art Are not Considered Works of Visual Art?
There are certain types of art that are not considered works of visual art and, therefore, are not afforded the protections of the Visual Artists Rights Act. These types of art include:
- Posters, maps, charts and globes;
- Technical drawings, diagram, models and applied art;
- Motion picture or other audiovisual work;
- Books, magazines, newspapers and periodicals;
- Databases, electronic information services and electronic publications;
- Advertising, promotional, descriptive, covering, or packaging materials;
- Any work made for hire; and
- Any other work not subject to copyright protection.
What Basic Rights Do I Have as an Artist?
It is also important for Alaskan Native artists to be aware of their rights. The rights to reproduce and distribute any of their copyrighted works belong to the artist.
The artist is free to assign their ownership or authorship rights to anyone they like. Although a copyright is the best way for an artist to establish and protect their rights as the author of their work, there are certain state and federal laws that offer protection to works that are not copyrighted.
These protections are intended to safeguard the credibility and reputation of the individuals who produce works of art.
What Is a Violation of Copyright?
Copyright infringement occurs when an individual violates the exclusive rights of a copyright holder. For example, only the copyright holder of a play may perform that play in public for profit.
If another party attempts to perform that play in public for payment, they may be charged with infringement. Another example arises when music that is copyrighted is being illegally sold.
The party who is infringing may face various consequences, including the infringing content being seized as well as facing civil litigation for lost profits. Copyright infringement is a serious crime.
In some cases, it may even be subject to federal penalties. As noted above, artists are also protected by The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA).
In addition to the rights noted above, VARA also protects the right of an artist to claim authorship of their work as well as to have their name removed from any works that have been misrepresented or altered without their consent. VARA also provides artists with the right to stop the destruction of their work.
In contrast to several state laws, VARA does not restrict its protections to fine art. However, it requires that a piece of art be “of recognized stature” in order to be protected.
The definition of visual art under VARA is quite limited and excludes some forms of:
- Graphic art;
- Audiovisual art;
- Motion picture art;
- Magazines; and
- Electronic art.
There may or may not be laws in an individual’s state that offer protection to various types of artwork. For example, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of the United States only allows Alaskan Natives to harvest marine mammals for their own use and allows them to use certain byproducts, such as ivory, for their arts and crafts.
What Actions Can I Take if Someone Infringes on My Artist Rights?
An artist may be entitled relief if they are successful in a case against a party who has infringed on their rights, including:
- Injunctive relief;
- Actual losses, or any money they lost as a result of the infringement upon their rights;
- Punitive damages, or money awarded if the party who violated their rights acted maliciously;
- Reasonable expert witness and attorney fees; and
- Any other remedies that the court deems necessary.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am a Victim of an Alaskan Native Art Scam?
If you are an individual who has lost a substantial amount of money to an Alaskan Native Art scam, it may be helpful to contact an experienced consumer lawyer. Your attorney can help you recover damages for your loss.
If you are an Alaskan Native artist and a party is infringing on your rights as an artist, an attorney can assist you in obtaining relief and stopping the infringing party.