The Supreme Court on Monday said hell yes to offensive trademarks.
The court struck down part of a 71-year-old federal law that banned “disparaging” trademarks — something the justices unanimously saw as an infringement on free speech.
“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 about the law in the court’s opinion.
“The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend. And, as we have explained, that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.”
America’s right to offend
The case centered on an Asian-American rock band called The Slants, whose members chose that name as a way to reclaim a common insult on their ethnicity.
The band took the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to court after it refused to grant them trademarks in 2011 because it deemed their name offensive. As the legal battle ran its way up to the Supreme Court, the little-known Portland, Ore. group became national symbols for fights over free speech.
The ruling could also have implications for the Washington, D.C. NFL team with a name and logo widely considered to be disparaging toward Native Americans. The football team has fought similar court battles against the federal trademark office since 2014.
Most recently, a federal appeals court put the team’s case on hold while awaiting the Supreme Court ruling on the Slants suits.
U.S. band The Slants fights to keep ‘offensive’ name
Monday’s decision will likely pave the path for the football team to continue its legal faceoff.
“The Supreme Court vindicated the team’s position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government’s opinion,” the team’s lawyer Lisa Blatt said in a statement.
The Daily News in 2014 decided not to use the team’s name in stories, deeming it “a throwback to a vanished era of perniciously casual racial attitudes.”
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