Biocultural Diversity and Copyright: Linking Intellectual Property, Language, Knowledges, and Environment

This is an image of the Nahua glyph for enery and movement, called ollin. It is carved into a terracotta-like substance on a sidewalk. Paint has fallen onto it, making the lines stand out.
Glyph for “ollin,” found in Mexicantown, Detroit

In 2012, The Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for trademark violations under the Indian Arts & Crafts Act for their line of “Navajo-inspired” products. This book chapter, co-written with Dr. Donnie Johnson Sackey, appears in a collection for Peter Lang called Cultures of Copyright, edited by Danielle Devoss and Martine Courant-Rife. In it, we use the concept of biocultural diversity (BCD) to posit the limit of U.S. copyright law’s ability to protect Indigenous ecological knowledge in the case of Navajo Nation vs Urban Outfitters. We argue that these limitations of copyright law stem primarily from the textcentric bias of copyright law, which positions aesthetic property in opposition to intellectual property.