SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA RULES UNANIMOUSLY IN FAVOR OF THE SLANTS
On, June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously (8-0) upheld the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s ruling that the all-Asian-American rock band The Slants have the right to register their trademark, ending an eight-year battle in their pursuit to trademark their name.
“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,” the band said in an official statement. “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.”
The Portland, Oregon band, consisting of vocalist Ken Shima, guitarist Joe X. Jiang, and founder/bassist Simon Tam (whose stage name is Simon Young), formally applied for a trademark in 2010. However, a trademark examiner rejected the application, stating that “The Slants” was a disparaging term, using sources like UrbanDictionary.com as evidence.
“During the fight, we found the Trademark Office justifying the denial of rights to peope based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, and political views, simply because they disagreed with the message of these groups,” the band said. “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.”
Then in 2011, Tam filed a second application, but was rejected again under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. After numerous appeals and arguments in court, the band finally prevailed on December 22, 2015, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruling that The Slants have the right to register their trademark. The Slants stated that people of color and the LGBTQ community have been prime targets under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act for too long, and their legal battle with the Trademark Office has made it clear that the office needed to open its eyes one day to the modern world and its evolving identity politics, shifting language, and understanding of culture competency.
The day finally came when the appeals court ruled that the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and Department of Justice violated the band’s First Amendment rights. In a 9-3 vote, the appeals court struck down the “disparagement” portion of the Lanham Act, a 1946 law that allowed the Trademark Office to deny marks that could be considered “scandalous, immoral, or disparaging.”
Writing for the opinion, Judge Kimberly Moore stated, “Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks… Words – even a single word – can be powerful. Mr. Simon Tam named his band The Slants to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country. With his band name, Mr. Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech.”
Tam said that when he started the band, it was about creating a bold portrayal of Asian American culture because the establishment of an Asian American band was a political act in of itself, even though they never considered themselves 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,” the band said. “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.”
Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of The Slants’ pursuit to trademark their name has opened new doors that allows Americans to decide who should prevail in the marketplace of ideas, as well as having national implications on free speech. The Slants decided to dedicate their 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,” the band said. “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.”
The Slants expressed their gratitude and appreciation for all the organizations and groups from all political sides that helped them along the way. The band set out to get their name but wound up accomplishing something far more important: protecting marginalized members of society and protecting the First Amendment.
“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.”
The Slants is currently touring and promoting their latest release, “The Band Who Must Not Be Named,” which has spawned two singles “From the Heart” and “Level Up.” Here are their upcoming tour dates:
7/14/17 – Tokyo in Tulsa – Tulsa, OK
7/15/17 – Tokyo in Tulsa – Tulsa, OK
7/21/17 – Ash Street Saloon – Portland, OR
8/10/17 – Otakon Matsuri – Washington, D.C.
8/11/17 – Otakon Matsuri – Washington, D.C.
8/12/17 – Otakon Matsuri – Washington, D.C.
8/13/17 – Otakon Matsuri – Washington, D.C.