High Court Strikes Down Law That Barred Trademarking 'Immoral' Words


Support for this podcast and the following message come from frame bridge. They make custom framing easy and affordable frame. Your art in photos at frame bridge dot com or visit their new stores located on fourteenth street and Bethesda row. Get fifteen percent off your first frame bridge order with code NPR in the next couple of months. There will probably be a rush to get trademark protection for brand names that use obscene vulgar, even racist language. That's because the supreme court struck down a long standing federal law that bars federal trademark protection for immoral and scandalous language as NPR's Legal Affairs correspondent, Nina totenberg reports the challenge to the law was brought by the owner of a clothing line called, I'm going to let Nina take it from here. The line is called f you see T. You can sound it out yourself. I am not allowed to now. Anybody can trademark brand, but a government approved trademark gives the holder. Extra protection? And in this case, the government denied trademark for F U, C T, citing a federal law that bans such protection for immoral or scandalous names yesterday. The supreme court struck down that law by a six to three vote an odd coalition of the courts, conservative and liberal justices declared that the law violates the first amendment guarantee of free speech because it disfavor, certain ideas, an equally odd combination of three justices disagreed and would have upheld. The law, applying it only to profane, vulgar, and obscene, brand names, and now experts are predicting a race to trademark all kinds of sexually explicit and racist, brand names lawyer Jacqueline lesser specializes in trademark matters. I do believe that this will open the door to indiscriminate applications for terms and words that many or most of us find to be really awful. This is not the first time the supreme court has struggled with this dilemma, though, in a somewhat different context in the nineteen seventies in the pre cable era, comedian George Carlin set out to determine what words he could say on TV and radio I wanted to list because nobody gives you lease. They don't give you a list, wouldn't you think it'd be normal if they didn't want you to say something to tell you what it is, as he put it there were at the time. Lots of descriptions, for forbidden words dirty filthy foul raunchy rude. Crude lewd, less sivvy's indecent profane, obscene blew off color Carlin ended up with seven famous dirty words. All I could think of. And those were the so called seven dirty words that the Federal Communications Commission barred from the airwaves and in nineteen seventy six the supreme court upheld that list ironically in yesterday's F, U, C, T, case dissenters, and at least one of the justices in the majority suggested that the trademark office should have made a similar list, or in the alternative. They suggested congress should make a list like George carlin's in a new statute as chief Justice, John. Roberts, put it in his dissent, the first amendment, protects the freedom of speech. It does not require the government to give aid and comfort to those using obscene vulgar, and profane modes of expression or as Justice Samuel Alito in the majority, put it in a separate opinion. For himself, only our decision does not prevent congress from adopting, a new statute, more focused on obscene, vulgar, and profane brand names. It's not at all clear. However, that the five other justices in the majority would uphold such a statute. So stay tuned. And in the meantime, prepared to dislike a lot of trademarks, you see, they won't be your father's, Nike Swoosh, Nina totenberg, NPR news. Washington. Support for this podcast and the following message come from atlassian, a collaboration software company powering teams around the world committed to providing the tools and practices to help teams plan track build and work better together. More at atlassian dot com.

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