CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
H.R. 725 is being considered on the floor on Tuesday, January 19, 2010, under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. This legislation was introduced by Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ) on January 27, 2009, and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which reported the bill by voice vote on December 16, 2009.
H.R. 725 would authorize any federal law enforcement officer to investigate crimes relating to an alleged counterfeiting of Indian arts and crafts. Under current law, only the FBI can conduct such an investigation. The bill would also authorize the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to refer any violations involving the sale of goods misrepresented as Indian-produced goods to any federal law enforcement officer or agency, as opposed to just the FBI. In addition, any federal law enforcement officer would be authorized to conduct an investigation without a referral from the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.
H.R. 725 would require that the findings of any investigation regarding counterfeit Indian arts and crafts be referred to either the State or federal prosecutor or the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. The bill would then allow the Board to make recommendations to the prosecutor on how the case should be handled, including recommendations on criminal or civil proceedings. The bill would expand the basis for bringing a civil suit for misrepresentation of Indian produced goods to allow an Indian tribe, a member of that Indian tribe, or an Indian arts and crafts organization to bring suit.
Finally, the bill would modify the maximum punishments for the misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods. If the good in question was being sold at a price of $1,000 or more, the punishment would be a maximum fine of $250,000 for an individual and $1 million for a group, and a maximum sentence of five years in prison. For a second offense, the bill would increase penalties to a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and $5 million in fines.
The Indian Arts and Crafts Board was established in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which prohibited the misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products. The law applies to all Indian traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced by a member of a State or federally recognized Indian Tribe after 1935. According to its website, the Board "promotes the economic development of American Indians and Alaska Natives of federally recognized Tribes through the expansion of the Indian arts and crafts market." The Board also states that the most frequently copied Indian arts and craft items copied and sold include Indian-style jewelry, pottery, baskets, carved stone fetishes, woven rugs, kachina dolls, and clothing.
According to House Report 111-397, very few cases of counterfeiting Indian-produced crafts for sale are investigated annually. While few cases are investigated, there is apparently a large trade of counterfeit Indian-produced goods taking place in the U.S. The House Report cites a recent a recent Wall Street Journal article which referred to a "tsunami of cheap imported jewelry-designed to look like authentic Native American art" that was "flooding" the American Southwest. According to the Indian Arts and Crafts Association, up to 75 percent of the $1 billion exchanged annually for Indian arts and crafts may go to counterfeit goods.
According to CBO, the cost of H.R. 725 "would not be significant" because the Department of Justice estimates that very few cases relating to the sale of counterfeit Indian goods are investigated each year.