Turner on the Zia’s Sacred Religious Symbol and Intellectual Property Law

Stephanie B. Turner (a student at Yale Law School) has posted The Case of the Zia: Looking Beyond Intellectual Property Law to Protect Cultural Rights. The abstract follows. –YAH

This Article focuses on an ongoing dispute in trademark law: the case of the Zia. Located near Albuquerque, New Mexico, this Native American pueblo has been using its sacred sun symbol in religious ceremonies since 1200 C.E. The symbol now appears on the New Mexico State flag, letterhead, and license plate, and on commercial products ranging from chemical fertilizers to portable toilets. The tribe claims that the State appropriated the symbol without permission in 1925, and that the continued use of the symbol by various parties dilutes its sacred meaning and disparages the tribe in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act. This Article tells the Zia story, focusing on the harms the tribe faces when others appropriate its symbol and the possible solutions. It concludes by suggesting that indigenous groups like the Zia should move beyond intellectual property laws in the fight to protect their cultural rights.

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