"A group of University of Michigan faculty members recently gathered at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library for a panel discussion focused on the commercial use of derogatory terms used against targeted groups.
The discussion, co-hosted by the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program and the student group WeListen, comes on the heels of a concert that took place on campus last week featuring The Slants.
The Slants are an Asian-American dance rock band that made national headlines last year for resolving a nearly eight-year fight with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over the use of their group name in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Publicly discussing Matal v. Tam — which called into question the trademarking of disparaging terminology — aligns with the university’s continued effort to explore the idea of free speech in an ever-evolving contemporary democracy.
In the case, the Supreme Court struck down the section of a federal trademark law that prohibited the use of disparaging and offensive terms. The trademark office had cited part of a 71-year-old trademark law, Section 2A of the Lanham Act, when it prohibited Simon Tam, the band’s lead singer, from registering The Slants, a slur against Asians, as the name of the band.
After the case made its way through the lower court system, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the disparagement clause as a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech clause.
“One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric,” said Leonard M. Niehoff, professor from practice at the Law School, citing a Supreme Court majority opinion, written by Justice John Marshall Harlan in 1971. Niehoff shared the line to reinforce the idea that even unpopular speech is protected by the First Amendment." (Love, Lauren. "U-M faculty discuss reclaiming oppressive language." The University Record. 9/19/18).