Thursday, 1 March 2012

Najavo Nation files trademark violation lawsuit

The Navajo Nation has initiated a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters, a clothing retailer for trademark infringement and for claimed violations of the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act. According to the story carried in the Washington Post, “it [is] illegal to falsely suggest that merchandise is made by American Indians when it is not”

According to the webpage of Senator Jon Kyle, who was one of the original authors of the Act, “The Act prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian arts and crafts within the United States. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act is a truth-in-advertising law that provides criminal and civil penalties for marketing products as “Indian-made” when such products are not, in fact, made by Indians, as defined by the Act. The law is intended both to protect unsuspecting buyers from fraudulent works, as well as Indian artisans, craftspeople, and tribes.”

The Washington Post story says the subject of the lawsuit is merchandise that included the word “Navajo” or “Navaho” to give a false impression that these were the products of the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo peoples are well-known as having for their crafts, for weaving beautiful blankets and baskets. There is obviously enough “name recognition” of these peoples to make the use of their name a commercial marketing strategy to attract consumers.

In the run-up to next week’s Expert Seminar on Indigenous Languages and Cultures,hosted at Brunel University, this lawsuit highlights the ways in which indigenous cultural heritage is attractive to expropriate in many consumer markets, and that despite legislation to prevent this, protection of culture and heritage is not guaranteed. This points out the importance of the discussion that will be the subject of the Expert Seminar.

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