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Rock group The Slants take the fight over their name to the Supreme Court

The Slants, "Sour Love" (Screenshot: YouTube)

Can a band legally trademark a name that many would consider an offensive racial slur? That’s the unusual and highly provocative question that the United States Supreme Court will face on January 18 when it considers the case of The Slants, a Portland-based rock quartet whose members are Asian-American. The band wants to trademark that divisive name, but it has been prevented from doing so by the Lanham Act, which specifically forbids the trademarking of offensive or derogatory terms.

The Supreme Court appearance marks the climax of a seven-year legal battle, during which Slants leader Simon Tam has consistently argued that this is a free speech issue. The band maintains that it is making a statement on racism in America with its deliberately shocking name, but its trademark applications have been consistently denied over the years. Now the Supreme Court will have to decide whether the Lanham Act is stifling the band members’ freedom of expression. Lower courts have increasingly sided with the band, resulting in this extraordinary Supreme Court appearance.

The story gets a little more complicated, too, since the Washington Redskins have unsuccessfully attempted to glom onto The Slants’ case to protect their own highly controversial, little-loved name. Tam maintains that the NFL franchise “tried to hijack our case, arguing that they would be better advocates for the case and wanted to consolidate the two, but the court rejected them.” So now the band is carrying on alone. The Slants will also be playing some shows and appearing at protests in the Washington, D.C. area while the band is in town for the historic trademark hearing. On January 18, after arguing its case in front of the Supreme Court, the band is scheduled to appear at the Electric Maid.

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[via Rolling Stone]

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