Urban Outfitters has been in a legal battle with the Navajo Nation since 2012, when the tribe sued the clothing retailer for selling items labeled and marketed as “Navajo.” Urban Outfitters was accused by the Navajo Nation of trademark infringement due to items such as panties and liquor flasks being falsely sold under the Navajo description. At the time, the tribe had described the underwear as “derogatory and scandalous.”
The tribe also accused the retail chain of being in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which was passed by Congress in 1990 to help ensure that products are not misrepresented as produced by Native Americans. According to Buzzfeed, a judge ruled last week that the Navajo Nation can pursue the lawsuit under the act and that they had “sufficient evidence to raise jury questions on the issues of consumer confusion and deception.”
Navajo Nation alleges they lost sales due to Urban Outfitters and that the “imitation products have driven down prices of Authentic Indian products, forcing the Navajo Nation and American Indian People to offer and garner revenues for authentic products at lower prices.”
Urban Outfitters has defended their use of the word Navajo by saying it was a generic descriptor and even compared it to the term “light beer.” In a 2012 court filing lawyers for the retailer wrote, “Just as the term ‘Light Beer’ is generic for a type of beer that is light in body or taste or low in alcoholic and caloric content, ‘Navajo’ is today a generic descriptor for a particular category of design and style.” The case may end up going to trial, though the amount of monetary compensation the Navajo nation is seeking has not been disclosed.
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