A fight for free speech through a trademark

Aron Moxley, the former lead singer of The Slants, graduated from Astoria High School. A trademark dispute over the band's name has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

A former Astorian who was the lead singer of The Slants believes the rock band’s name is deliberately racist, but he says some of the swagger and in-your-face message has been lost in a trademark dispute with the federal government.

Aron Moxley, who fronted the Portland-based Asian-American band for seven years before leaving in 2014, chimed in this week as the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court will decide whether the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office violated the band’s free-speech rights when it refused to register the disparaging name as a trademark in 2011. The case is being closely watched nationally because the court’s ruling could help preserve other, more lucrative trademarks, like for the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

“Diversity deserves and needs communication,” Moxley wrote on Facebook in a repost of an opinion he originally issued more than a year ago. “Being in an all-Asian band named The Slants was perfect for that. It made people a little uncomfortable and made them talk about what makes us different.”

Moxley said the band changed its approach to appease the government, claiming the name — a pejorative for Asian eyes — instead referred to “a slanted view” or “a slant on life.”

“In hindsight I feel we lost our true cause, who we were, just to gain the trademark,” he wrote. “We should have stuck to our ideals and vision.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of the band in 2015, finding that the federal law which bans the registration of disparaging trademarks is a violation of the First Amendment. The Patent and Trademark Office appealed to the Supreme Court.

Moxley, who is of Vietnamese descent, was a refugee after the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and was adopted by an American family. The family moved to Astoria in 1980 and Moxley, now 42, graduated from Astoria High School in 1992. He wrote a song for the dance-rock band called “Astoria,” which appears on the album “Pageantry.”

Moxley lives in Portland and works as a music writer and part-time bartender.

He said in an email exchange with The Daily Astorian that he quit The Slants because he found a new job and could no longer tour as extensively as he had in the past. Because he felt he had a unique perspective on the Lee v. Tam case, he said he decided to share his feelings about the name controversy again on Facebook.

“No longer being in the band has allowed me to see it from the outside as well as the inside,” Moxley said. “I no longer have to be a united front for the sole purpose of the trademark.”

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