Can a business be named after a hate symbol?
September 20, 2019 3:12 PM   Subscribe

A business whose name I regularly come across in my work is named after a widely-recognized symbol that’s a) copyrighted and b) associated with white nationalism, and it uses this image on its website. They have a federal license to do what they do and must also have a local business license. This got me thinking: Is/how is what people call their businesses regulated? This is in Washington state, if that matters.
posted by centrifugal to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Washington Redskins say yes.
posted by Reverend John at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

It's regulated via the State Business Licensing Service.. You can file a complaint there. I didn't find any sort of standards for name choice there.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:26 PM on September 20, 2019

They may have difficulty protecting their name/symbol as a trademark because of 15 U.S.C. § 1052 which says a trademark registration can be refused if it "consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute."

This restriction was weakened recently, but as noted at that link, a widely-known symbol may also be rejected as a trademark simply because it is a universal symbol that is not associated with a single brand or product. (It gives the example of an rejected attempt to register the peace symbol ☮ as trademark.)

Note: These restrictions on trademarks do not mean that a business can't use such a name or symbol. They just mean that the business would lack certain protections, like the ability to prevent its competitors from using the same marks.
posted by mbrubeck at 3:27 PM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Two years ago, in Matal v. Tam, the US Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals that the Lanham Act's provisions prohibiting the registration of trademarks that may disparage persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols with the violated the First Amendment. According to this, "Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend." This article has more information.
posted by ubiquity at 3:50 PM on September 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Before I read the details I thought of the 14.88 insulation guy... but wrong continent and all that. Things haven't gone so well for him, but if he hadn't gotten involved in distributing a mosque shooting video, he could have kept driving his company van covered with hate symbols around indefinitely as far as I know and getting all the white nationalist insulation business.

So: probably ok in New Zealand!
posted by inexorably_forward at 4:01 PM on September 20, 2019

When you say it’s copyrighted, do you mean you know someone other than the business owner owns the copyright to this symbol?
posted by rustcellar at 6:36 PM on September 20, 2019

rustcellar, yes, sorry that wasn’t clear. The copyright holder has cease-and-desisted others for using this image.
posted by centrifugal at 6:46 PM on September 20, 2019

If this is some version of the various Norse/ Neolothic /celtic /Gaelic symbols recently adopted recently by Americam white nationalists I would assume the business and copyright predate the current Neo Nazi movement and they probably have no idea.
posted by fshgrl at 9:11 PM on September 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

If someone else holds the copyright for the symbol, that person could sue the business for copyright infringement (presuming that the use isn't licensed). If they've sent cease and desists to others before, they might do the same here.
posted by pykrete jungle at 6:53 AM on September 21, 2019

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