What has been regarded as a “major free speech victory” by some libertarians is in fact a significant step toward limiting free speech, usurping property rights, spending tax dollars, and assuming an active role in the free commerce of individuals. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the trademark office’s policy of refusing to issue trademarks that were deemed “offensive” was a violation of free speech. Reason.com’s Damon Root concluded that now, based on the ruling, the “First Amendment stands on stronger footing.”
However, in a great stroke of irony, the high court’s ruling further enables people to seek exclusive rights to the words that they regard as “free speech,” effectively siccing the state on individuals who dare to replicate that “speech” for their own purposes. Last week, people were free to express these words and logos, they could print them on t-shirts, they could sell those t-shirts, they could put up banners and advertisements on billboards. Following the ruling, however, those activities may be considered illegal. This is a victory for libertarianism?
If there’s any silver lining to this ruling, it’s the fact that the court has acknowledged that trademarks pertain to speech. They must also acknowledge that the state-imposed restrictions on the ability to freely use that “speech” is effectively a restriction on free speech itself.