The president of a motorcycle club gathering in Excelsior Springs this weekend promises it will be peaceful. In an interview with KMBC 9 News, Mongol Gary tried to ease concerns of violence in the wake of last weekend’s shootings...If you watch the video, it sounds like the Mongols didn't just grant an interview, they may have sought it out. Talking their plans over with law enforcement is also a little unusual, but the police appear to have appreciated the courtesy.
Excelsior Springs police said they’ve known about the event for months, have had conversations with Mongols leaders and expect an easy weekend, even though they’ll be preparing for the worst.
The Mongols may be on their best behavior in part because they have a court case coming up soon that is of tremendous importance to them.
As part of a plea deal, the club president forfeited rights to the Mongol trademark to the Department of Justice, and a federal judge granted an injunction prohibiting club members from wearing, licensing, selling, or distributing the any materials depicting the Mongolian warrior.Maybe the Masonic compass. I don't think the other two are good analogies.
At the time, only Uncle Sam was legally entitled to wear the Mongols' leather vest -- known as a "cut" -- as a jacket without sleeves.
Federal Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that upon presentation of the court's order by police, "defendants and all their agents, servants, employees, family members, and other persons in active participation with them, must surrender all products, clothing, vehicles, motorcycles, books, posters, merchandise, stationery, or other materials bearing the Mongols trademark."
While another judge partially lifted that injunction a few years later, Uncle Sam and the Mongol Nation are headed back to federal court June 2 in Los Angeles to reargue the case and determine who now owns the trademark.
The Mongols mount a First Amendment defense, arguing in court papers the "government's sole purpose in filing the indictment is to crush the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club by seizing the intellectual rights to the 'Rider' and 'Mongol' marks and thereby quash the Club and its members rights to freedom of expression and association." ... To Davis, the DOJ actions are "unprecedented and unconstitutional." He said the Mongol's insignia is a "collective membership mark" that's "on a par with the Christian cross, the Masonic compass, or the Jewish star."
It'll be an interesting case, especially with the Waco shootout so close in memory. It seems like there's something special about the government seizing a trademark. Free speech rights are against the government and not against other citizens. As a result, you have a right to violate a trademark in the sense that the government can't stop you from saying whatever you're going to say. However, the government can enforce someone else's copyright by requiring you to pay damages to them for violating that copyright. In this case, the government would essentially be requiring you to pay damages to them -- making it hard to discern a difference between the civil damages and a fine.
Can the government use this power more broadly to fine you for saying something it doesn't want you to say? Could the government, in principle, decide to seize the copyrights of a book they didn't like, and forbid anyone from printing copies of it? How about a religious book -- various translations or editions of the Bible, say? It's the same Amendment where all these protections cluster, so it seems as if they're all in danger together.
Ordinarily I'd think the Mongols were likely to win a case like this, but after last week it's hard to say. It's a moment at which it may be hard to get the judge to think about the more theoretical questions regarding how the precedent could be more broadly applied, and less about the very public and concrete example of violence.