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Urban Outfitters and the Navajo Nation Are Still Locked in a Legal Battle

Photo: Driely S.

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Back in 2012, the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters after Urban used the words "Navajo" and "Navaho" to describe printed underwear, flasks, jewelry, purses, and more. That legal battle is still going on, and last week, the Navajo Nation scored what The Fashion Law calls "an early victory" when a judge ruled that the tribe does have legal standing and can continue to pursue its claim under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

That act states that it's against the law to falsely claim that products are Native American-made. According to The Fashion Law, the Navajo Nation may also seek damages under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act for Urban's use of additional tribal names.

This is a blow for Urban Outfitters, BuzzFeed's Sapna Maheshwari writes, as the case could go to trial — although it's unclear how much money the Navajo Nation is seeking.

The main strategy for the Urban Outfitters legal defense team has been that shoppers don't associate the term Navajo with the Navajo Nation and that the word is more of a descriptor. BuzzFeed reports that the retailer's lawyers wrote in a court filing in 2012: "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."

Looks like that strategy isn't going to work. "Urban Outfitters is going to have to come up with another way to avoid paying a big penalty for its use of the Navajo Nation’s trademark and name," Law Street's Anneliese Mahoney writes.