Intellectual Property

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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Eleventh Circuit rejects publicity rights claim for Rosa Parks

In a well-known case, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a publicity rights claim brought by the estate of Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King Jr. for Social Change v. American Heritage Products, 296 S.E.2d 697 (Ga. 1982). The court enabled the estate to prevent the sale of plastic busts of Dr. King by a seller who had not been authorized to do so by the estate. However, in Rosa and Raymond Parks Inst. for Self-Development v. Target Corp.,...

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Google library book project held to be a fair use under copyright law

A federal district court has upheld Google's library book project as an authorized fair use under the federal Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §101 et esq., Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc., 2013 WL 6017130 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). The court upheld the power of Google to scan copyrighted books held by libraries and to give those libraries digital copies of those scans. It also upheld Google's power to make the text of those books searchable so that researchers could view snippets of those books and could search the books for...

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Trademark registration denied for a racial slur

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board refused to register "the Slants" as the name of an Asian-American band, despite its attempt to turn the name from an ethnic slur into a mark of pride. In re Tam, No. 85472044, 9/26/13. The federal trademark law prohibits registration of any mark that "may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols." 15 U.S.C. §1052(a). Even though the band sought to "take back" the ethnic slur by appropriating it (as happened...

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Court shuts down resale of digital music files

Judge Richard J. Sullivan of the Southern District of New York held that owners of digital music have no right to sell that music to others. Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc., 2013 WL 1286134 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). The case involved a company named ReDigi that created a software program that allowed legally-owned digital music files to be transferred by sale from one owner to a buyer in a manner that insured that the file was not retained on the original computer. The...

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