Copyright Issues in the Cherokee Nation

By Guthrie, Lawrence S., II | Information Outlook, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Copyright Issues in the Cherokee Nation


Guthrie, Lawrence S., II, Information Outlook


Copyright issues among the Cherokee Nation combine history, heritage, art, the U.S. Constitution, federal legislation, and the Cherokee Constitution and Tribal Code. In the Cherokee Nation Code, a two-volume set consisting of 80 titles, there are no references to copyright statutes, according to Justice Philip H. Viles, Jr. of the Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation (Judicial Appeals Tribunal).

Justice Viles, who is also a national authority on Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, and who is completing his fourth degree (this one in library science) notes that the preamble to the Cherokee Constitution states that there can be no conflict with the U.S. Constitution. However, the independent character of the Cherokee Constitution offers the possibility of adding to the federal copyright laws. Any conflict with the federal statutes is decided in the Judicial Appeals Tribunal of the Cherokee Nation. While most of the Cherokee statutes address federal funding, statutes can be enacted in other areas, such as copyright. Overall, in the Cherokee legislative process, the chief suggests laws and the legislative branch, the Tribal Council, enacts them.

Artwork is one facet that presents copyright considerations. Among the artwork of Cherokee Willard Stone is the "Trilogy", and in particular "Exodus", a sculpture depicting the Trail of Tears of the Cherokees. It stands in Talequah, OK, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, specifically in the lobby of the Restaurant of the Cherokee near the information center. Pictures of it appear in Cherokee brochures and literature. The copyright for the work is held by the family of the late Willard Stone, according to Lynn Adair, tribal spokesperson. The family is very "strict" regarding their father's artwork, and they are cautious to grant permission for its use. Another of his works, "Lady of Spring," is on exhibit in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on loan from Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK. …

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