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Briefcase: Musical Tradmarks

Guest: Michael Olivas


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Trademarks are distinctive and legally protected. They can be words, logos, and objects. Michael Olivas, with The University of Houston Law Center, is an entertainment law expert and explains how trademarks are relevant to entertainment industry.

"Many entertainers pitch products,” Professor Olivas said. “Run-DMC's Darryl McDaniels has sued many large retailers for selling, without permission, the group’s merchandise such as their famous fedora hat. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have applied to trademark their names and their kids."

Olivas described what he thinks has been the Supreme Court's most important case on trademarks by musicians. "It was the courageous claim to use ‘The Slants,' a derogatory name for Asians, by an Asian-American band,” he said. “They trademarked the offensive name to reconstitute it as a form of affirmative pride. Federal law has a provision prohibiting disparaging trademarks, but the Supreme Court held for The Slants."