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The Slants Return to FCC After Win in Supreme Court
September 7, 2017
Asian-American rock band The Slants returned to Fresno City College Sept. 6 to perform and speak about their recent win in the Supreme Court after a lengthy legal battle to try and trademark their band name.
The band has been traveling through California and speaking at different colleges about their recent case, racism, cultural appropriation, representation of the asian community and their future as a band.
FCC reading instructor Michael Takeda interviewed the band onstage in the OAB auditorium for nearly an hour, and then The Slants performed an acoustic set of some of their songs, creating a more intimate setting that is typical in their heavy rock shows.
Takeda said that he and the band had kept in contact with each other since their last performance at the college on April 3 and had planned to set up an event if they won their case.
“I think it’s important for a lot of these types of issues to be talked about,” says Takeda. “I think this format lended itself well to having an open conversation about art and music and the role of art in society, but also how important it is for people to get involved in social issues and to be active in trying to make the world around them better.”
During the interview, lead vocalist Ken Shima said he was always proud to be Asian, but he wanted to be a part of something that Asian children could look up to. “I’m happy to be a role model. We are so underrepresented that even one person can make a difference,” said Shima.
The Slants performed their song “From the Heart”, a jab written at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A”, which corresponded to the social and racial strife that the band was discussing.
Original member and bassist for the band, Simon Tam, has been fighting legal battles since 2009 to try and get his band’s name trademarked. The trademark office denied the band a copyright because they believed the name to be disparaging towards Asians.
The Slants filed a second trademark case in 2011, were still denied a copyright, and then took their case to a federal circuit court. The federal circuit decided their band name was part of free speech and was protected by the first amendment.
The U.S. government appealed to the decision and the Supreme Court agreed to review it.
On June 19, the Supreme Court decided that trademark protection cannot be denied to the band and that the Trademark Office’s claim that the name is disparaging is false.
This decision also coincides with recent controversy regarding the Washington Redskins football team logo, and there has been attempts to trademark extremely offensive and racist names. The controversy has brought the Lanham Act (Trademark Act of 1946), the federal statute that governs trademarks, service marks and unfair competition to the limelight.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision finds The Lanham Act’s ban on “disparaging” comments unconstitutional and will have immediate and long term effects on copyright and infringement laws.
Tam says that he is hopeful to start a new journey with his band and that he feels that a weight has been lifted from him after nearly ten years of fighting this battle.
“Now we can focus on our art in a different type of way, without the distraction of a court case,” says Tam. “We are hoping we can write with a lighter heart but still speak themes that are important to us.”