The U.S. Navajo Nation has sued Urban Outfitters Inc. for trademark violations and licensing discrepancies in regard to products offered in its retail stores and online. The suit, filed late Tuesday, claimed the Philadelphia-based clothing and dry goods retailer used trademarked and conspicuous patterns clearly indicative of Navajo culture, in the manufacture and sale of an entire line of products, without a marketing plan or other prior consent.
The suit states: The fame or reputation of the Navajo name and marks is such that, when the defendant uses the 'Navajo' and 'Navaho' marks with its goods and services, a connection with the Navajo Nation is falsely presumed. It goes on to say the products evoke the Navajo Indian Tribe's tribal patterns, including geometric prints and designs fashioned to mimic and resemble Navajo Indian and Tribal patterns, prints, and designs.
The suit stems from a cease-and-desist motion the Navajo Nation pushed on Urban Outfitters in October 2011, over an entire line of Navajo branded items. These included a derogatory and scandalous flask and Navajo Hipster Panty sold in the stores across the country.
On Columbus Day, Monday, Oct, 10 2011, Sasha Houston Brown of the Santee Sioux Nation wrote an open letter to Glen T. Senk, CEO of Urban Outfitters Inc. to stand in solidarity with the Navajo Nation. Brown wrote: to a mass marketed [sic] collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor adding, I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as fashion.
The Associated Press reported on Oct. 19 2011 that Urban Outfitters pulled at least 20 of the items branded with the term Navajo from its website. That said, Tuesday's suit against the retailer comes as a surprise. However, it was noted products like this one simply transitioned from being called Navajo to being called printed.
Erny Zah, Director of Communication of for the Navajo President, sent over a statement reading: The Navajo Nation has previously demanded that Urban Outfitters cease and desist misappropriating the Navajo name and trademark. Although Urban Outfitters said that it had stopped using Navajo in connection with the sale of its products, it merely transitioned its misappropriation of the Navajo name and trademark to lesser-known websites and print advertisements. Urban Outfitters has continued its misappropriation and trademark infringement to enhance its sales.
This isn't just a case of cultural insensitivity, however; there is legal precedent. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.
The suit was filed in a district court in New Mexico, where Urban Outfitters runs one retail location. The state is one of three, with Arizona and Utah, that is home to the nearly 30,000 square miles of land the Navajo Nation has claim to.