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Portland Band the Slants Wins Landmark Supreme Court Victory

"For too long, people of color and the LGBTQ community have been prime targets."

Portland band the Slants' eight-year legal fight to trademark their own name is over, and they won. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lost.

"We now have a trademark," the band's manager, Alex Steininger, tells WW.

At issue was a previously little-known clause in the 1946 Trademark Act that disallowed "disparagement" in commercial trademark.

Because the Slants are an Asian-American band, the trademark office ruled that the Slants could not trademark their name because it was disparaging—to themselves. ("Slant" is a slur against people of Asian descent.)

An all-white band with the same name is presumably fine—as it was, for example, with non-Asian band the Slant.

The anti-disparagement law has been applied inconsistently over the years, with trademarks for "heeb" or "dago" both accepted and denied. Slants bassist Simon Tam writes that the law is often used against minority groups, though it would appear on the face that it was designed to protect them (it wasn't).

The Slants lost a long series of legal battles to own their own name until 2015, when they won a surprise victory in Federal Circuit Court, precipitating their trip to the Supreme Court.

"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," Tam wrote after the band's victory at the Supreme Court.

The decision, Tam says, is "about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what's best for ourselves."

The disparagement clause has now been ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous 8-0 decision, although the reasoning behind the decision differed among conservative and liberal justices.

Many have noted that the legal fight has led to strange bedfellows. One of the groups that stands to benefit from this decision is the Washington Redskins, long embroiled in legal disputes over its racial slur of a name. In an interview with WW two years ago, Tam called the Redskins an "unlikely and unwanted ally."

But the eight-year fight for the rights to their own name is now over. The Slants now get to enjoy the same legal status as such upstanding bands as Anal Cunt—which was allowed a trademark while the Slants were denied it.

Here's Tam's full statement after the victory:

As we state in our song, "From The Heart":

Sorry if our notes are too sharp
Sorry if our voice is too raw
Don't make the pen a weapon
And censor our intelligence
Until our thoughts mean nothing at all
Sorry if you take offense
You made up rules and played pretend
We know you fear change
It's something so strange
But nothing's gonna' get in our way
There's no room
For your backward feelings
And your backyard dealings
We're never gonna settle
We're never gonna settle
No, we won't remain silent
Know it's our defining moment
We sing from the heart
We sing from the heart
No, we won't be complacent
know it's a rock n roll nation
We sing from the heart
We sing from the heart
Sorry if we try too hard
To take some power back for ours
The language of oppression
Will lose to education
Until the words can't hurt us again
So sorry if you take offense
But silence will not make amends
The system's all wrong
And it won't be long
Before the kids are singing our song
There's no room
For your backward feelings
And your backyard dealings
We're never gonna settle
We're never gonna settle
No, we won't remain silent
Know it's our defining moment
We sing from the heart
We sing from the heart
No, we won't be complacent
know it's a rock n roll nation
We sing from the heart
We sing from the heart"