The Slants Sing about Supreme Court Case

What do you do when your band has a case at the US Supreme Court? You sing about it, of course.
The Slants, the Portland, Ore.-based band locked in a six-year-long legal battle with the US Patent and Trademark Office, has a date with the highest court in the nation early next year. The band has been trying to trademark its name, which the USPTO claims is disparaging against Asian Americans, according to an old and often overlooked law, the Lanham Act. The Slants, a four-member band consisting exclusively of Asian-American musicians, has the support of several Asian-American advocacy groups in its effort to secure its trademark.

And when the band isn’t preparing court documents with their attorneys, they’re a band, touring and performing as much as possible. Like most bands, they draw on real-life experiences for their songwriting material. Why should a potentially landmark case about patent and trademark law in the US not be used as rich material and inspiration for a new song?

The song, “From the Heart,” includes the lyrics: “There’s no room/For your backward feelings/And your backyard dealings/ We’re never gonna settle/ We’re never gonna settle,” according to the National Law Journal. “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.”

The Slants also have a crowdfunding account set up on generosity.com in support of their legal fees, raising $1,730 from 28 donors in just eight days. They’ve set a goal of $10,000.

Simon Tam, the band’s bassist and spokesperson for the legal action, explains in a video posted on the site that The Slants’ fundraising campaign, in addition the continued fight for the right to trademark their own name, “allows the opportunity for others not steeped in intellectual property law to participate in the process. It also provides an opportunity for our audiences to be educated about our experiences in the legal system.”

In a legal brief, Tam explains that the idea behind calling the band The Slants is part of the “long tradition of ‘reapporpriation,’” in which minority or other disenfranchised groups reclaims words or phrases that had been used to hurt a population and, instead, use it for empowerment, National Law Journal says.

“The Slants’ fans are not racists eager to denigrate Asian-Americans,” according to a brief filed by Tam and the band’s legal team. “Only an uninformed philistine could find the band’s name disparaging.”

For more on The Slants’ case, read here and here and check out their music and an extensive background on their case on their website.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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