Can you strip a biker gang of their trademark logo?

We cover plenty of stories involving gang violence and law enforcement here, but this one has a definite twist to it. The gang in question is the Mongols Motorcycle Club in California and they recently wound up on the wrong end of a jury decision involving… trademark rights? As strange as it may sound, their legal defense team and public relations people (you mean that’s a thing?!) were fighting against a decision to strip them of the copyright for their gang emblem which is emblazed on the members’ leather jackets and other accouterments that they sell and profit from. A jury came to what’s being described as a landmark decision, agreeing that the copyright should be rescinded. (Associated Press)

A California jury decided Friday that the Mongols motorcycle gang should be stripped of its trademarked logo in a first-of-its-kind verdict, federal prosecutors said.

The jury in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana previously found Mongol Nation, the entity that owns the image of a Mongol warrior on a chopper, guilty of racketeering and conspiracy.

The verdict caps an unusual decade-long quest by prosecutors to dismantle the gang responsible for drug dealing and murder by seizing control of the trademark they said was core to the gang’s identity.

Gang members were “empowered by these symbols that they wear like armor,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Welk said.

We should begin by acknowledging that the Mongols aren’t exactly sympathetic figures. Members and leaders of the gang have repeatedly been found guilty of everything from murder, rape, human trafficking for prostitution and illegal gun charges to racketeering and drug running. They, along with the other large biker gangs are responsible for far too much crime, death, and destruction in this country. But attacking them on the grounds of a copyright held by their “legal entity” makes me uncomfortable.

The way the ruling is being described implies that cops who see members riding around wearing jackets with the Mongol colors on them will be able to pull them over and forcibly take their jackets away. Despite all the criminal activity they engage in, those not in prison still have the same civil rights as anyone else and are entitled to free speech, right? (I would say the same for the Bloods and the Crips.)

Unless someone else takes over the copyright of the image, this decision shouldn’t force them to stop wearing the badge, should it? And even if someone does obtain the copyright, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t wear it. They just wouldn’t be able to continue selling Mongols Nation paraphernalia (is that seriously something that happens?) and profiting from it.

Breaking up these outlaw biker gangs and putting those guilty of crimes in prison is a noble goal for law enforcement. But it has to be done legally, and we can’t just trample on their rights because of their unsavory reputation.