Two Seattle-based companies and their owners, Kurt Tripp and Ngoc Ly, have settled Federal Trade Commission allegations that they falsely represented Native American-style carvings as authentic Native-made artwork. As part of the settlement, the two individual defendants will each pay $20,000 as disgorgement, be prohibited from misrepresenting that their Native American-style artwork was made by Native Americans, and be required to follow procedures to prevent such misrepresentations at the retail level for products they offer at wholesale.
The FTC complaint, filed in federal district court, alleges that the defendants misrepresented that the artwork they produced and sold was the work of Eskimo carvers Ron Komok and Eddie Lyngoc. Eddie Lyngoc is a pseudonym for Ngoc Ly, and Ron Komok is an Eskimo, who did not actually produce the several thousand carvings attributed to him. The complaint also alleges that the carvings produced by Ly were sold by Ivory Jack's at wholesale to retail shops throughout Washington and Alaska and represented as Native-made. Ly also sold the carvings in his retail store representing the pieces as Native-made. The artwork sold at retail for between $120 to $4,000 or more, with the most popular pieces selling for between $250 and $500.
In addition to providing the artwork, the complaint alleges, the defendants provided shopowners with biographies describing Ron Komok's Native-American heritage and training in carving, and hangtags stating that the carvings sold by Ivory Jack's are Native-made.
The proposed consent decrees settling these charges, subject to court approval, would prohibit the defendants, in connection with the sale of Native-American style art objects, from representing that any such object is Native-made or that any such object is made in Alaska or made from materials of Alaskan origin, unless such is true and from misrepresenting the source of such objects, their country of origin, or the materials from which they are made.
The settlements would require the defendants, when purchasing Native-American style art objects for resale, to confirm from the supplier, the place and manner in which the object was produced, in order to determine whether the object can lawfully be represented as Native-made. In addition, for each art object that the defendants sell at wholesale, they must be able to validate the authenticity of the pieces by having a written description of the artist who created the object. The description should include information such as where the artist was born, where he/she resides, whether he/she is affiliated with any tribal organization, and if so, the name, and whether the artist uses a name other than his/her legal name, and if so, the artists' true name.
The settlements would also require the defendants to clearly and conspicuously label all Native-made objects valued at $100 or more and offered for retail sale as being Native-made. The defendants would also be required to prominently display a poster where retail customers can see it before making a purchase, stating that only those items marked "Native-made" are made entirely by Native Americans.
In addition, the consent decrees would require the defendants to notify past wholesaler customers of the terms of the settlements and to advise past customers that they cannot sell the work of specific artists, Eddie Lyngoc and Ron Komok, as Native-made.
Finally, the proposed settlement contains various reporting provisions designed to assist the FTC in monitoring the defendants' compliance.
The FTC's Seattle Regional Office handled the investigation. They received tremendous assistance in this matter from the Alaska Attorney General Office.
The Commission vote to authorize filing of the complaint and proposed consent decree was 5-0. They were filed on April 11, 1996, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, in Seattle.
NOTE: This consent decree is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants of a law violation. Consent decrees have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint and consent decrees are available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710 FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. 942-3034)
(Civil Action No. C96-563C)