Monday, June 19, 2017

Supreme Court upholds offensive trademarks as form of free speech

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that even trademarks considered to be derogatory deserve First Amendment protection.
The decision was a victory for an Asian American dance rock band dubbed The Slants -- and, in all likelihood, for the Washington Redskins, whose trademarks were cancelled in 2014 following complaints from Native Americans.
While defending the First Amendment's freedom of speech protection, the justices did not remove all discretion from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But they raised the bar for trademark denials so that names deemed to be offensive but not hateful can survive.
"It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for a unanimous court. He rejected the government's argument that protected trademarks become a form of government, rather than private, speech.
"If the federal registration of a trademark makes the mark government speech, the federal government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently," Alito said. "It is saying many unseemly things. It is expressing contradictory views. It is unashamedly endorsing a vast array of commercial products and services. And it is providing Delphic advice to the consuming public."The nation's capital has been captivated for years with the battle over the Redskins' name, but the high court had left the football team's case pending at a federal appeals court in order to hear the challenge brought by band leader Simon Tam and his Portland, Oregon-based foursome.The Slants went to court after being denied trademark registration for a name they chose as an act of "reappropriation" — adopting a term used by others to disparage Asian Americans and wearing it as a badge of pride.
After losing in a lower court, the band won at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled 9-3 last year that "the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech." The Obama administration then appealed to the Supreme Court.
During oral argument in January, several justices said provocative names are chosen by individuals and organizations to express their views or as advertising. Denying trademark registration, they said, was a form of viewpoint discrimination.
But some justices also wondered whether the government should retain wiggle room, particularly since even without being registered, groups such as The Slants can advertise and sign contracts.
The Supreme Court has upheld negative speech in recent years, even when it involved distasteful protests at military funerals or disgusting "animal crush" videos. But last year, it allowed Texas to ban specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag because it was considered a form of government speech.
The Slants won support during their court fight from both liberal and conservative groups, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Fariha Taj

0 comments:

Google+ Badge

Popular Posts

Contact Form

Name

Email *

Message *