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Can “Fuct” Be Trademarked? Supreme Court Hears Key Case For Free Speech

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  • 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.

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.

Hard Questions

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)

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Pittsburgh Church Runs Out of Money During Gun Buyback

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  • Within the first hour of their gun buyback program on Monday, a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ran out of money.
  • The church raised $5,100 to pay individuals up to $100 per firearm. An estimated 146 guns were handed in.  
  • The buyback took place two months after the community was rocked by a fatal double shooting that occurred right outside the church’s doors.
  • The event was held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in honor of Dr. King’s legacy of non-violence.

Successful Buyback

A gun buyback hosted by a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Monday received such a large response from the community that they ran out of money within the first hour.

The Church of the Holy Cross ran the program in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and accomplishments were recognized in the form of a national holiday on Monday. 

“In the first 45 minutes, we actually ran out of money,” Sylvia Wilson, the church’s senior warden, told CNN. “Some people were just bringing the guns in and they didn’t want the money. They just wanted to get the guns out of their homes.”

The church told CNN that $5,100 was raised by parishioners and other affiliate churches to buy back any firearms that people brought in. Individuals who participated received $50 or $100, depending on the type of gun. When the money ran out, the church posted a sign on their door.

“The Gun Buyback response has been overwhelming,” the sign read. “Thank you. We have run out of cash for this buyback. Sorry to turn so many away.”

“You can still turn in guns though,” the sign said at the bottom.

Wilson told CNN that even after the money had run out, people were coming to the church to turn in their guns. Other community members donated an additional $1,000 toward the buyback.

At least 146 guns were handed in overall, according to Rich Creehan, director of external relations for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh who spoke to CNN. Wilson said that the church was only expecting about 100. 

Striving for Non-Violence

The buyback program came just a few months after a double fatal shooting occurred right outside the Church of the Holy Cross. 

“In early November, on this very corner where this church sits, there was a double homicide involving relatives who attended this church and participated in our summer program,” Dr. Leon Haley with the Church of the Holy Cross said at a press conference last week.

“And so having this gun buyback at this church, which sits in a community disproportionately affected by gun violence, is a statement of the moral and humanitarian values we espouse,” he added.

This incident, tied with the desire to honor Dr. King’s legacy of non-violence, is what prompted the church to hold the gun buyback. 

On the same day, a very different event took place several hundred miles away. In Richmond, Virginia, thousands congregated for a rally and Lobby Day to fight for their gun rights. 

“We didn’t realize that in Virginia they would be marching today,” Wilson told CNN, referencing the Richmond demonstration. “We see that as dishonoring his legacy because they’re marching on this holiday representing him. It’s the total opposite of what we’re trying to do today.”

The organizers of the Richmond gun rights demonstration emphasized that their assembly was intended to be peaceful. Although Gov. Ralph Northam preemptively declared a state of emergency in the Capitol grounds of Richmond in fear of violence, the rally took place without a hitch.   

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NBC) (CBS)

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Evelyn Yang, Andrew Yang’s Wife, Says Gynecologist Sexually Assaulted Her

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  • Evelyn Yang, the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Yang, went public with her sexual assault allegations against a New York gynecologist. 
  • Yang said Robert Hadden, who practiced through Columbia University, sexually abused her during a medical appointment when she was pregnant in 2012.
  • After Yang and several other women’s allegations brought charges against Hadden, he pleaded guilty to two counts in 2016 and lost his medical license, but did not go to prison. 
  • Hadden and Columbia University are facing a lawsuit for abuse allegations and coverups, respectively, filed by at least two dozen women. 
  • Hadden has denied all allegations except the two counts he pleaded guilty to several years ago.

Evelyn Yang’s Story

Evelyn Yang, the spouse of 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, said she was sexually assaulted by a gynecologist who is also facing abuse allegations from more than two dozen other former patients. 

In a CNN interview released Thursday, Yang publicly spoke for the first time about her alleged assault by Robert Hadden, a former medical professional with Columbia University.

Yang said she started seeing Hadden in 2012, when she was pregnant with her first child, and described the visits as routine at first. But she said eventually the gynecologist’s behavior grew more and more inappropriate.

The mother claimed the worst case of assault was when she was seven months pregnant. 

“I was in the exam room and I was dressed and ready to go,” she told CNN. “And then, at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about ‘I think you might need a C-section’ and he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved.”

Yang revealed that she didn’t tell anyone about what happened for awhile — not even her husband — even though she knew what the doctor did was wrong. It wasn’t until months later, after she found out that another woman had reported a sexual assault by Hadden, that she told her spouse.

Legal Battles Against Robert Hadden

After telling her husband about what happened to her in the gynecologist’s office, Yang hired a lawyer and discovered that the Manhattan District Attorney had an open case against the doctor as several other women came forward with similar stories. 

In early 2016, after agreeing to a plea deal that saw him admitting to two out of nine charges against him, Hadden was convicted of sex crimes. However, the charges Yang accused him of weren’t among them. In that deal, Hadden had to surrender his medical license and register as the lowest level sex offender, but he did not have to spend any time behind bars. 

Yang was disappointed by the verdict and thought the punishment was not large enough for the crime. 

“They said that the punishment was the same, regardless of how many counts he plead guilty to, that the punishment would’ve been the same, so it didn’t matter,” Yang said. “And I thought, well, it matters to me.”

“The DA’s office is meant to protect us, is meant to serve justice,” she added. “And there was no justice here.”

Now, there are at least 30 women that now accuse Hadden of sexual assault. The majority of them, Yang included, are part of a civil suit against Columbia University, its affiliates, and Hadden. 

The lawsuit claims that the university “concealed Robert Hadden’s abuse for decades” and continued to allow his access to patients.  

Hadden has denied all allegations against him, save for the two counts he pleaded guilty to prior to his 2016 conviction. 

Justification for Going Public Now

Yang chose to bring her story into the public eye now because she felt empowered by the people she met as she accompanied her husband along his campaign trail. 

“Meeting people and seeing the difference that we’ve been making already has moved me to share my own story about it, about sexual assault,” Yang said.

After the CNN interview came out, Andrew Yang posted support for his wife on his Twitter page.

“I’m so proud of Evelyn for sharing her story on behalf of so many women who have had similar experiences, most of whom will never have the same opportunity,” he wrote. “She is the source of strength for our family and she demonstrates it every day.”

In her interview, Evelyn also expressed wanting to use her unique position to speak up about these issues. 

“My experience with the sexual assault… is such a powerful and upsetting example of the truth that women are living with every day,” she said. “And I just happen to be able to have a platform to talk about it. I need to use that voice.”

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (BBC)

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Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Prior to Pro-Gun Rally

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  • The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of a pro-gun rights demonstration next week, banning firearms from the Capitol grounds of Richmond for several days.
  • Gov. Ralph Northam warned of “credible threats” from outside groups that are planning to disrupt the assembly with violence.  
  • The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is scheduled to take place Monday, Jan. 20 on the state’s Capitol grounds. 
  • Lobbyists plan to protest gun control bills that are being pushed by the state’s government, which Democrats have recently taken control of for the first time in a generation.

State of Emergency Declared

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the pro-gun rights rally set to take place in the capital early next week. 

“We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday,” Northam said at a press conference. “This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.”

“They are not coming to peacefully protest,” he added. “They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.” 

In preparation for this possibility, Northam released an executive order detailing the state of emergency that will be set in place from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. Throughout this stretch of time, firearms and other weapons will be prohibited from the Capitol grounds in Richmond.  

Northam said that state intelligence analysts have identified rhetoric and threats similar to what was seen prior to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one person dead directly from the violence and dozens more injured. 

“No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” Northam said. “We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.”

Monday’s Plans

The rally that Northam is preparing for is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and will take place on Monday, Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Northam asked the organizers of Monday’s event to “disavow” any groups who threaten violence, according to NPR.

On their frequently-asked-questions page, the VCDL writes that their annual Lobby Day is intended to be a “peaceful event” and encourages attendees to disengage if faced with any kind of harassment.

The VCDL emphasizes the sole purpose of the demonstration is for gun rights supporters to protest gun control bills that are moving forward under a new slate of lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Democrats took over as the majority group in both houses of Virginia legislature, a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in over 25 years. Many of these lawmakers have pledged to support Gov. Northam’s proposed measures to regulate and restrict firearms. 

Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun group, told CNN on Wednesday that he “doesn’t believe the governor has the right to ban weapons.”

Later on Monday, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention will also be assembling at the capital for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil to honor victims of gun violence. A coordinator for the vigil was advised to push back the start time to avoid the big crowds from the pro-gun rally, according to a local news outlet

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (ABC)

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