- The Supreme Court heard a case on Monday involving whether or not the clothing brand Fuct can legally receive a trademark.
- Erik Brunetti, the founder and owner of Fuct, claims the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office unconstitutionally violated his First Amendment rights when they denied him trademark protection for the brand.
- The Patent and Trademark Office claims that the brand name violates the Lanham Act, a federal law that bans trademark protection for words that are “immoral,” “shocking,” “offensive,” and “scandalous.”
Iancu v. Brunetti
The Supreme Court must decide whether or not the word “Fuct” can be trademarked.
On Monday, the nation’s highest court heard Iancu v. Brunetti, a case involving designer Erik Brunetti, who claims the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office acted unconstitutionally and violated his First Amendment rights when it refused to trademark his streetwear brand Fuct.
MORE: On the Supreme Court’s docket is the case of “FUCT,” a Los Angeles clothing line.— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 15, 2019
The company is fighting for trademark protection after the federal government refused to register the name, calling it “scandalous” and “immoral” https://t.co/5RdMWe3jZa pic.twitter.com/15RbeSRYRt
Brunetti founded Fuct in 1990, and since then, his brand has seen a rise in counterfeit products offered by third-party sellers. Brunetti says these products are costing him significant money.
“Go to eBay, and you’ll see a lot of counterfeits, or go to Amazon, and you’ll see lots of counterfeits,” Brunetti said.
If he wins his trademark, Brunetti will be able to sue eBay and Amazon to force them to remove the knockoff products from their sites. He will also be able to go after the counterfeiters and shut them down.
How the Case Reached the Supreme Court
Brunetti tried to copyright Fuct in 2011, but was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which claimed the name violates the Lanham Act, a federal statute that bans trademark protection for words that are “immoral,” “shocking,” “offensive,” and “scandalous.”
Brunetti appealed the decision, but for a while, nothing happened.
Then in 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Asian-American band called The Slants, saying that the band could not be denied trademark protection. In a parallel case, the Patent and Trademark Office had denied the band a trademark because it believed the band’s name was racially “disparaging.”
The case, known as Matal v. Tam, was brought before the court, which ultimately ruled that the denial was unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
“The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion, “Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”
Matal v. Tam was expected to have a significant impact on other trademark cases. For Brunetti, this was a huge boost.
Following the 2017 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided that Brunetti should be allowed a trademark under the precedent set by Matal v. Tam, stating that the Lanham Act was unconstitutional because it violates the first amendment.
After the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Brunetti, the government appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Supreme Court Hears Case
During Monday’s hearing, the Justices of the Supreme Court were careful not to say the name of the brand.
The justices looked at a chart that showed terms had been given trademarks by the government and terms that had not.
Similar terms that had been given trademark protection include “FCUK” and the well-known brand “FUBAR.” The term “Crap” was registered 70 times in a trademarked name, but the “Shit” was repeatedly denied.
While viewing the chart, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked how the Patent and Trademark Office defines “scandalous,” “shocking” or “offensive.” Justice Ginsberg also asked if 20-year-olds, the target audience for the brand, generally find Fuct to be “shocking” or “scandalous.”
Malcolm Stewart, the lawyer for the government, conceded that 20-year-olds probably do not find Fuct to be “shocking” or “scandalous,” but he argued that the term would still be offensive to a lot of the population, which gives it grounds to be denied a trademark.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that he was troubled by the chart, saying it showed “erratic or inconsistent enforcement” of the Lanham Act. He argued that the chart seemed to show that the terms that were denied were hardly different from the terms that had been approved, and that the decision to approve or deny terms appeared to be made without any specific reason.
Justice Neil Gorsuch echoed this sentiment, saying that the examples given in Brunetti’s brief were “remarkably similar,” adding, “I could not myself see a rational line.”
Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have an interesting point here.
According to a study by two New York University law professors, between 2003 and 2015 the government rejected around 2,000 trademark applications which they claimed were “immoral” or “scandalous” under the Lanham Act. The lawyers who wrote the study also argued that the decisions to deny or approve these cases are inconsistent and arbitrary.
The Justices posed some hard questions to the government, but they were also sure to put the pressure on Brunetti and his lawyer as well.
Justice Stephen Breyer wondered why the government does not have the ability to deny the brand a trademark, while still recognizing Brunetti’s right to use the language in his brand without trademark protection.
Breyer also worried that allowing the trademark for Fuct would create a slippery slope whereby racial slurs could be trademarked, which could lead to slurs and offensive words appearing on newsstands, advertisements on buses, and in malls.
However, Justice Ginsberg pushed back on this concern.
“Suppose in the niche market that these goods are targeting, the name is mainstream,” said Justice Ginsberg, “These goods, as I understand it, are meant to attract a particular market, and if we concentrate on that market the word is mainstream.”
Like Matal v. Tam, Brunetti’s case would set a huge precedent for free speech if he recieves his trademark. However, the court is not set to make a decision until this summer, so those who are eager to see a decision in the closely-watched case will have to wait.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (GQ) (The Washington Post)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.
See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)
Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”
Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.
New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer
Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.
“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”
Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.
Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”
“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.
Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.
Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.
“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”
Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.
Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.
Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.
It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.
During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”
At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.”