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Urban Outfitters in Court Over Using Navajo Culture for Profit

Urban Outfitters has been slammed for some pretty serious “oopsies” over the years. There was the vintage-looking Kent State University sweatshirt dyed pink, in a manner a little too reminiscent of the 1970 campus shooting that killed four people.

Or their “Irish I Were Drunk” tee which was released just in time to “fuel stereotypes” of Irish and Irish Americans before St. Patrick’s Day.

And for years, Urban Outfitters has upset people with cultural appropriation of Native American peoples.  

Four years ago the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against the multinational corporation, Urban Outfitters, Inc., which includes brands Free People, and Anthropologie, BHLDN, Terrain, and Vetri.

Read More: Why I'm Not Buying Clothes for a Year

The Navajo Nation, the council for the largest Native American tribe in the U.S., filed a claim that Urban Outfitters, Inc. is violating trademark dilution laws.

What is trademark dilution?

“Trademark dilution is the weakening of a famous mark’s ability to identify and distinguish goods or services, regardless of competition in the marketplace or the likelihood of confusion,” according to the International Trademark Association.

In other words, Urban Outfitters has been using the Navajo Nation’s symbols and it’s confusing consumers, the lawsuit alleged.

In U.S. federal terms, this is all written under the Lanham Act of 1946 or Trademark Act.  

The Navajo Nation also claimed Urban’s use of the term “Navajo” is a violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, a law which prohibits misrepresentation of marketing Indian crafts. It’s tricky, however, because the law’s primary purpose is to prevent people from selling products under false premise the item bought or sold was made by Native Americans.

Read More: The Global Citizen Guide to Ethical Shopping

What did Urban Outfitters say about the whole thing?

Urban claimed the term “Navajo” falls under “trademark fair use.” Which means the term “Navajo” is generic and the items Urban Outfitters, Inc. sells under the name Navajo are more descriptive of origin, style, or print.

Read More: These 5 Amazing Brands are Empowering Women in the Developing World

And according to a recent decision by a federal judge in New Mexico, Urban Outfitters can claim fair use as a defense during the trial for using the term “Navajo.”


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