The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause

Print this page 30-06-2017
IPPT20170619, USSC, Matal v Tam

TRADE MARK LAW - FREE SPEECH

 

The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause: the disparagement clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution, goes much further than necessary and is far too broad. The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear.

 

21. […]A simple answer to this argument is that the disparagement clause is not “narrowly drawn” to drive out trademarks that support invidious discrimination. The clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution. It applies to trademarks like the following: “Down with racists,” “Down with sexists,” “Down with homophobes.” It is not an anti-discrimination clause; it is a happy-talk clause. In this way, it goes much further than is necessary to serve the interest asserted.

The clause is far too broad in other ways as well. The clause protects every person living or dead as well as every institution. Is it conceivable that commerce would be disrupted by a trademark saying: “James Buchanan was a disastrous president” or “Slavery is an evil institution”?

There is also a deeper problem with the argument that commercial speech may be cleansed of any expression likely to cause offense. The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates. If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social “volatility,” free speech would be endangered.

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For these reasons, we hold that the disparagement clause violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The judgment of the Federal Circuit is affirmed.

 

IPPT20170619, USSC, Matal v Tam

 

No. 15–1293