Trademarks, Offensive Names, and Asian-Americans

Fact: The Slants, an Asian-American “dance-rock” band, are currently engaged in a legal battle to trademark their band’s name, a legal battle 3 years in the making. In 2011, cited by the authorities in charge of trademarks as being offensive, their request to trademark the band name was rejected twice, and thus the legal battle ensued. Last year, an appellate court ruled in favor of the band stating that the trademark office’s rejection of a trademark for being offensive is a violation of the right to free speech. Obama’s administration is behind pushing this to the SCOTUS in a bid to overturn the ruling and the precedent it could set. The precedent would very likely lead to the allowing of the Washington Redskins football team to trademark their name as well.

Opinion: I’m divided on this. I’m personally against any violations to free speech, but free speech applies to individuals, and a band, while small, is technically a business. In the same sense that the Redskins have been denied the ability to trademark their team’s name, The Slants fit into that same condition. However, I’m not sure why you’re not allowed to trademark something if it’s offensive in the first place. Even if it is to deter that speech, allowing them to trademark that speech would be better for that, since then only that group could use it, officially.

The appellate court also said, however, that The Slants can trademark their name because they use it as a counter to offensive speech by “re-appropriating” the word. Under that precedent, the Redskins likely don’t fit that conditionality. So, honestly, I’m not 100% sure how I feel on this issue, and I’d need to do more research, but it definitely has far reaching implications for free speech in general, so it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

The Slants' band members are all of Asian descent.

The Slants’ band members are all of Asian descent.

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