The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied the application based on a provision of federal law prohibiting the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” 15 U. S. C. §1052(a). We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.
[T]he disparagement clause is not “narrowly drawn” to drive out trademarks that support invidious discrimination. The clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution. It applies to trademarks like the following: “Down with racists,” “Down with sexists,” “Down with homophobes.” It is not an anti-discrimination clause; it is a happy-talk clause. In this way, it goes much further than is necessary to serve the interest asserted.
The clause is far too broad in other ways as well. The clause protects every person living or dead as well as every institution. Is it conceivable that commerce would be disrupted by a trademark saying: “James Buchanan was a disastrous president” or “Slavery is an evil institution”?
"We grew up and the notion of having slanted eyes was always considered a negative thing," Tam said in January. "Kids would pull their eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture to make fun of us. ... I wanted to change it to something that was powerful, something that was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead."
For too long, people of color and the LGBTQ community have been prime targets under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, simply because we believe in the deliberate disarmament of toxic language and symbols. We’ve had to endure the Trademark Office working in isolation of our groups to navigate the troubled waters of identity politics and shifting language and culture, without any sense of cultural competency, consistency in enforcement of rules, and only giving the benefit of doubt to the most privileged members of society. Now, Americans can decide who should prevail in the marketplace of ideas rather than a lone examining attorney.
When I started this band, it was about creating a bold portrayal of Asian American culture. The establishment of an Asian American band was a political act in of itself, even though we never considered ourselves 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. 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.…
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.
CHANG: How do you feel about being on the same side as the Washington Redskins?
TAM: I don't think I'm on the same side as them. I think that the team name is racist. I think it's - I think that Native Americans have made it overwhelmingly clear how they feel about not only that team but all sports in general that use human beings as mascots.
GOLDSTEIN: But, he says, the point of the First Amendment is to protect people who you don't agree with, who aren't on your side.
TAM: That's how free speech works. As a person of color who has experienced a lot of racial discrimination and been the target of a lot of racial slurs, people don't say, oh, wait a second, I have to register a trademark before I can call you chink. They just go ahead and do it. Racists are going to be racists whether they have a registration or not.
JUSTICE KENNEDY, joined by JUSTICE GINSBURG, JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, and JUSTICE KAGAN, agreed that 15 U. S. C. §1052(a) constitutes viewpoint discrimination, concluding: (a) With few narrow exceptions, a fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that the government may not punish or suppress speech based on disapproval of the ideas or perspectives the speech conveys. See Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 828–829. The test for viewpoint discrimination is whether—within the relevant subject category—the government has singled out a subset of messages for disfavor based on the views expressed. Here, the disparagement clause identifies the relevant subject as “persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols,” §1052(a); and within that category, an applicant may register a positive or benign mark but not a derogatory one. The law thus reflects the Government’s disapproval of a subset of messages it finds offensive, the essence of viewpoint discrimination. The Government’s arguments in defense of the statute are unpersuasive.
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