Members of the rock band The Slants have the right to call themselves by a disparaging name, the Supreme Court says, in a ruling that could have broad impact on how the First Amendment is applied in other trademark cases.
The Slants’ leader Simon Tam filed a lawsuit after the Patent and Trademark Office kept the band from registering its name and rejected its appeal, citing the Lanham Act, which prohibits any trademark that could “disparage … or bring … into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead,” as the court states.
After a federal court agreed with Tam and his bands, the Patent and Trade Office sued the band to avoid being compelled to register its name as a trademark. On Monday, the Supreme Court sided with The Slants.
“The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court. Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”
The case could inform arguments over other, much larger entities than The Slants.
As NPR’s Nina Totenberg has reported, “the trademark office has denied registration to a group calling itself “Abort the Republicans,” and another called “Democrats Shouldn’t Breed.” It canceled the registration for the Washington Redskins in 2014 at the behest of some Native Americans who considered the name offensive.”