Today, June 19, 2017 SCOTUS unanimously – 8-0 – upheld the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s ruling that The Slants have the right to register their trademark, ending an eight-year battle for the Portland, Oregon rock band in their pursuit to trademark their name. The band is currently touring and promoting their latest release, The Band Who Must Not Be Named, which has spawned two singles – “From The Heart” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwfEgcRXJjM) and “Level Up” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZQSBaz2mw8).
A statement from The Slants’ Simon Tam on their victory:
“After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned nearly eight years, we’re beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court. This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it’s been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what’s best for ourselves. During the fight, we found the Trademark Office justifying the denial of rights to people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, and political views, simply because they disagreed with the message of these groups. To that end, they knowingly used false and misleading information, supported by questionable sources such as UrbanDictionary.com, while placing undue burdens on vulnerable communities and small business owners by forcing them into a lengthy, expensive, and biased appeals process. The Supreme Court has vindicated First Amendment rights not only for our The Slants, but all Americans who are fighting against paternal government policies that ultimately lead to viewpoint discrimination.
For too long, people of color and the LGBTQ community have been prime targets under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, simply because we believe in the deliberate disarmament of toxic language and symbols. We’ve had to endure the Trademark Office working in isolation of our groups to navigate the troubled waters of identity politics and shifting language and culture, without any sense of cultural competency, consistency in enforcement of rules, and only giving the benefit of doubt to the most privileged members of society. Now, Americans can decide who should prevail in the marketplace of ideas rather than a lone examining attorney.
When I started this band, it was about creating a bold portrayal of Asian American culture. The establishment of an Asian American band was a political act in of itself, even though we never considered ourselves as a political group. However, as we continued writing music about our experiences, we realized that activism would be integrated into our art as well. I’m proud our band members have helped raise over $1 million for issues affecting Asian Americans, that we’ve worked with dozens of social justice organizations, and that we could humanize important issues around identity and speech in new and nuanced ways. So we became part art and part activism.
We dedicated our newest release, “The Band Who Must Be Named,” as an open letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to articulate these values. Music is the best way we know how to drive social change: it overcomes social barriers in a way that mob-mentality and fear-based political rhetoric never can. Language and culture are powerful forms of expression and we are elated to know that the Supreme Court of the United States agree. Irony, wit, satire, parody…these are essential for democracy to thrive, these are weapons that neuter malice.
We are filled with appreciation for the numerous groups who have helped us along the way. Organizations from all sides of the political made for unlikely allies in order to address the false dichotomy between free speech and civil liberties. We know that to truly protect the most marginalized members of society, we absolutely must protect and expand the First Amendment.
There will always be villainous characters in a free society but we cannot be so blinded in our desire to punish them that we are willing to bear the cost of that cost on the backs of the marginalized.