Free Speech

First Amendment protects right to federal registration of offensive trademarks that disparage a person or group

The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits enforcement of a provision of the Lanham Act that purports to deny the benefits of trademark registration to names or marks that "disparage" a person or "bring [them] into contempt or disrepute." Matal v. Tam,2017 WL 2621315 (U.S. 2017); 15 U.S.C. §1502(a) (Lanham Act). The Court held that "this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First...

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Publicity rights limited by free speech guarantees

In the well-known case of Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change v. American Heritage Products, 296 S.E.2d 697 (Ga. 1982), plaintiffs Coretta Scott King, administrator of Dr. King’s estate and Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change, and Motown Records, an assignee of the rights to several of Dr. King’s recorded speeches, sued defendants to stop them from manufacturing and selling plastic busts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Georgia Supreme Court recognized a “celebrity’s right to the exclusive use of his or her name and likeness” and rejected...

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Federal Circuit holds that first amendment protects right to use disparaging trademarks

In In re Tam, 808 F.3d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2015), the Federal Circuit held the government could not withhold trademark registration because the name was disparaging. In re Tam involved a band called The Slants and the Patent and Trademark Office had determined that the name represented a racial slur that was disparaging to people of Asian descent and thus could not be registered as a...

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Municipalities cannot regulate political content of signs

In the 2015 case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015), the Court struck down a local ordinance that banned “ideological signs” that “communicat[e] a message or ideas.” The ordinance also limited “political signs” to election season and limited the times when plaintiff church was allowed to post “directional signs” bearing the name of the church and the time and location of the next service. The Court...

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New Jersey Supreme Court confirms state constitution's grant of free speech rights to enable a coop owner to disseminate written information to co-owners

While the US Constitution's free speech provisions in the first amendment apply only to state action, both California and New Jersey have interpreted their state constitutions to grant individuals free speech rights in some cases in relation to private parties. In both states, citizens have the right to distribute leaflets in shopping centers. In Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners, Inc., 2014 WL 6777311 (N.J. 2014), a resident wanted to run for a seat on the Board...

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