A federal inquiry into fake indigenous art has been asked to draw a line between cultural appropriation and exploitation.
The cultural custodians for 53,000 Aboriginal people in northern Western Australia have challenged the federal committee to broaden its scope to include laws protecting cultural traditions.
Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre events coordinator Wayne Barker told the inquiry in Broome on Tuesday western trademark and property rights were not compatible with indigenous laws of shared ownership.
"This is the big dilemma," he said.
KALACC represents the Kimberley region's 33 indigenous language groups and holds trademark ownership over the Wandjina, rain spirits prominent in rock art.
Only Ngarinyin, Worrora and Wunambal people of the northern Kimberley have authority to use the Wandjina, and must receive their approval to represent the image.
"Art for our people ... is embedded in our traditional custom. Our law and custom is a foundation of who we are as a sovereign people," Mr Barker said.
"Our designs are not just a symbol of art, it's actually a brand of culture."
In written submission, KALACC said there were limited protections against people who used the image, with increasing difficulties since the federal government cancelled the Indigenous Cultural Support Program in June 2016.
The group highlighted six examples of artists allegedly using the Wandjina since 2012 without permission, including Adelaide artist Driller Armstrong whose exhibition Add-Original Art was shut down last year following accusations he had appropriated the sacred symbol.
In a Facebook exchange with Mr Barker, Mr Armstrong said his works were inspired by the symbol but he had not been trying to pass off the images as genuine Wadjina or Aboriginal art.
"Can I paint a Wandjina? Of course I can't, I'm white. But can I draw what one looks like? I sure can," he wrote.
But Mr Barker told the committee any attempt to appropriate a traditional cultural form without due process was a "clear threat" to the integrity of the cultural icon.
"Where is the line between cultural appropriation and exploitation?" he asked.
The inquiry is set to continue at the Warmun Aboriginal Community on Wednesday.