Supreme Court rules in favor of "offensive" copyrights

20 June, 2017, 01:03 | Author: Michele Stevens
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In a win for free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that trademarks can not be denied simply because a name is deemed offensive.

The justices ruled that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights.

That rock band's name is the Slants - and its founder and bassist, an Asian-American named Simon Tam, argued that the band's name wasn't aimed at offending Asians in America.

Tam sought to register "The Slants" as a federally protected trademark shortly after puting the band together. As Justice Samuel Alito put it in a part of the opinion that all the justices joined, "If the federal registration of a trademark makes the mark government speech, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently".

The larger ramifications from this case are that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can not refuse trademarks it views as offensive. The government's arguments, Alito observed, boiled down to this: "The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend".

The National Football League team, which took the name Redskins in the 1930s, filed a legal challenge to a 2014 decision by a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tribunal canceling its trademarks as disparaging to Native Americans. The patent office argued that because federal trademarks can be enforced by government, they are effectively government-backed speech.

Snyder has said he would "NEVER" change the name.

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The band also hoped to trademark the name so they could protect themselves from fake merchandise and other products. Its rejection transformed the course of the band's career and brought them to nationwide attention: the ACLU called the ruling a "major First Amendment victory" on Monday, and in the months leading up to the decision, the Slants' story reached everywhere from NPR to the Washington Post to Billboard.

The band has said it wanted to reclaim what is often seen as a slur. To do so, he wrote, "is viewpoint discrimination in the sense relevant here: Giving offense is a viewpoint".

The Supreme Court heard the case on January 18.

The Redskins' attorney issued a statement (via the Washington Times) in response to the ruling, saying, in part, "The Team is thrilled with today's unanimous decision as it resolves the Redskins' long-standing dispute with the government. If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social 'volatility, ' free speech would be endangered".

In an email, Tam rejected the notion that upholding the gutted provision of the Lanham Act would hamper the Redskins' efforts to keep their name.

"For these reasons, we hold that the disparagement clause violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment".

Government officials said the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection.


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