Despite being the largest Native American tribe in the United States, the Navajo Nation lost part of a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters because they could not prove that they were famous enough to own the rights to the aesthetic.
Urban Outfitters is no stranger to controversy in their fashion designs. In 2001, the company introduced a line of "Navajo" clothes and accessories that clearly appropriated the tribe's aesthetic. The Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit in 2011, demanding all profits from the line or $1,000 per day per item. Nevertheless, they failed to prove that the "Navajo" term is "widely recognized by the general consuming public of the United States," according to New Mexico District Judge Bruce Black. Urban Outfitters had argued that the term was sufficiently generic to warrant its usage without permission.
Meanwhile, there are still six counts pending against Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People that allege trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false advertising. The argument in these counts is that the retailers intentionally created products that were made to look as if they were made by the Navajo Nation, which is prohibited by federal law. Photography is no stranger to appropriation of culture, and thus, it's important to follow both the legal and ethical evolution of its usage.
What's your opinion on this ruling? Is Urban Outfitters justified in appropriating the Navajo aesthetic and culture?