The protection of the rights of indigenous people, including their intellectual property rights, has made a great progress in the past few years.
Not being considered in legal legislation or literature, this progress is largely due to the fact that indigenous names, images, symbols or patterns of commercial products have never been so common. Incorporating verbal and visual elements of indigenous people into brands, designs or models, has proved to be an effective way to make the products more attractive, more distinctive and therefore of more economic value.
However, not only is the use of cultural property of indigenous people without their consent economically unfair, but also this use may constitute an offense to indigenous people who traditionally attribute a spiritual and cultural meaning to certain words, images and patterns.
Therefore, it was imperative that measures should be taken to protect their economic and cultural rights.
Numerous examples of cultural appropriation have led to a strong reaction from some indigenous people in America and New Zealand (1). However, successful cases are not always easy to export, particularly with regards to African indigenous people (2).
Examples of cultural appropriation
Navajo Nation Vs. Urban Outfitters
The Navajo Nation is an indigenous population who lives in North America. Culturally prosperous, the Navajo Nation holds a high reputation due to the quality and diversity of their arts, namely costume jewellery, ceramics, tapestry and paintings.
Aware of the economic value of the name "Navajo", the American multinational company, Urban Outfitters, decided to market products with the name "Navajo" and "Navaho" and reproduce traditional Navajo designs without proper authorization.
Since the Navajo Nation is the owner of 86 trademarks registered at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and uses the name "Navajo" since 1894, when using the Name and Design of the Navajo Nation, Urban Outfitters not only violated the Navajo's intellectual property rights, but also violated the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act as well.
This use was also an act of unfair competition and a disrespect to the Navajo culture.
In response to this illegal act, the Navajo Nation took the case to court. The parties finally reached an agreement in September 2016, in accordance of which they obliged themselves to work together and market authentic "Navajo" products.
Mixe vs Isabel Marant vs Antik Batik