Trademark Battle Update

Posted by Simon Tam Category: News

On December 22, 2015, we received the official news that we won our appeal in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. A solid majority struck down a 70-year-old provision of the Lanham Act (10-2), which immediately opens the path for us to officially register our band’s trademark for The Slants.

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.”

This is a historic moment – not only for our band who has been fighting the legal system for nearly six years – but for all Americans, especially artists, nonprofits, and small business owners who have wrongfully had their free speech rights abridged. David Rogers, Executive Director for the ACLU of Oregon has stated, “This case calls for an end to a law that is being used to suppress minority voices.” And its Pacific Citizen Magazine, the Japanese American Citizens League wrote, “In the past, the word slant is considered an outdated term to the band and other community members. The long-held racial slur against Asian Americans is now a source of empowerment and change.”

We’ve long held that this case is not the Pandora’s Box for hate speech, that free speech is absolutely essential for having nuanced discussions of race and identity. In fact, trademark registrations fall under a strict legal process and that only meaningful products and services qualify for. We’re thrilled that the court recognizes not only our legitimate business practices, but our expressive and political speech as well, which lies at the heart of the First Amendment.

Of course, this ruling brings about many comparisons and worries about the Washington Redskins as well. While this may have significant implications for the team, our two cases have several major differences, and this ruling does not set precedent in their case. Whether or not the team prevails, we may be called back into the Supreme Court to continue defending the rights to our name.

In the meantime, we’d like to extend a deep appreciation for the hundreds of organizations involved with this victory. We’re extremely grateful for our attorney Ron Coleman, who led the charge, as well as the many groups who filed an amicus brief on our behalf: The First Amendment Lawyers Association, the ACLU, The CATO Institute, the Rutherford Institute, and the Fordham Institute. We want to thank The Project on Race in Political Communication for their survey work, to Dr. Ron Butters who provided an incredible expert report over the history of the term “slant,” to Angry Asian Man for the endless support, for APANO, JACL, AAYLC, and 150+ Asian American activist organizations who have played a role in this, to the contributors on our Go Fund Me, the supporters who signed our petition and shared our story, and the countless others. Thank you.

Who could have predicted that this little Asian band from Portland to change the course of history? We definitely weren’t alone!

Today, we stand in solidarity. Today, we’re ecstatic that we helped play a role in expanding free speech for the marginalized. We excited to see our message resonate in the highest levels of government.

What perfect timing too: this is the best holiday present our band could receive. Having just released a new music video in conjunction with the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center and on the eve of releasing our new album, “Something Slanted This Way Comes,” this exciting news will continue to help fuel our work in arts and activism.

So tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow, it’s back to work: we have a new album to write and we’re touring Asia in the next few months. Translation: we’re going to continue melting faces off with some CHINATOWN DANCE ROCK!

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