Portland band the Slants won big in federal circuit court today, in their challenge to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's refusal to trademark their name.
"I'm definitely ecstatic," says the band's founder and bassist Simon Tam. "It's been a long time coming."
For five and a half years, the Portland band has been denied the right to trademark their own name, because the trademark office ruled the name was disparaging—to themselves. Because the band has Asian-American members, they were not allowed to trademark themselves as "the Slants" because the term is a derogatory term for Asians, and their own Asian-ness brings the term into a derogatory context.
Non-Asian band "The Slant" has no such problems under the law. Anal Cunt is also apparently considered just fine.
Every prior court decision, through a long series of appeals, has upheld the original decision against the Slants, because of a statute ruling out "scandalous, disparaging or immoral" trademarks.
This court decision marks the first victory for the band. "It's been denial after denial," says Tam. "Three years ago right around this time, Christmas Eve, we got the decision we were too Asian to receive the mark. Our ethnicity provided to the context to make our name disparaging. This is the opposite of that."
The band picked up a number of allies in their fight for the name, from the NAACP to the Washington Redskins, whom Tam calls an "unlikely and unwanted ally."
"It's still important to realize that censorship is not how you solve racist speech," Tam says. "It's about having more nuanced discussions and better speech."
The court ruled that the Slants' First Amendment rights had been violated.
"I've heard it's a pretty huge deal," Tam says of the First Amendment decision. "The statute has been used primarily to disproportionately affect and marginalize minorities, artists and nonprofits trying to appropriate language."
Here's the relevant text of the ruling:
The Slants will play next in Portland at Newcon fest, which takes place Jan. 15-17.