Ye can’t sell ‘White Lives Matter’ apparel because 2 Black men now own the trademark

Data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows that the current owners acquired the trademark from its initial owner after Kanye West wore a shirt with the slogan during Paris Fashion Week.

Kanye West may have “repopularized” the phrase White Lives Matter, but he will have a few hurdles to cross if he intends to profit from it.

According to CNN, Ramses Ja and Quinton Ward, hosts of the weekly racial justice radio program “Civic Cipher,” decided late last month to become the legal owners of the phrase’s trademark for use on apparel. They said it was a difficult decision to make.

“Civic Cipher,” which debuted in 2020 to provide a forum for dialogue among Black and brown people, said the trademark’s initial owner is a listener of their program who wants to remain anonymous.

Kanye West
Kanye West, the rapper now known as Ye, will not be able to profit from the phrase “White Lives Matter” following the purchase of its trademark by two Black men who didn’t want it falling into the wrong hands. (Photo by Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

“The way the law works is either you’re owning phrases, or it’s up for grabs for people to make money off them,” Ja told Capital B News. “This person who first procured it didn’t really love owning it, because the purpose was not necessarily to get rich off of it; the purpose was to make sure that other people didn’t get rich off of that pain.”

Ja told CNN that having ownership of the trademark means having the sole right to market apparel bearing that phrase. 

The phrase, used by white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, is characterized as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The Anti-Defamation League has classified it as a “hate slogan.”

As the current trademark owners, the hosts believe it is their responsibility to prevent anyone from potentially profiting from it. They also want to keep the phrase from falling into the wrong hands. In this case, that appears to be West’s.

Data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reveals that the initial owner filed the trademark last month. The move came the same day West wore a shirt with a picture of Pope John Paul II on the front and the phrase “White Lives Matter” printed on the back at an event during Paris Fashion Week.

The person who initially registered the trademark transferred it to Ja and Ward’s business, Civic Cipher LLC, a few weeks later.

Ward told CNN they decided to accept the trademark “once it was clear that someone stood to gain significant profit from it.” He added, “because as you’ve seen, even though he (West) says some really hurtful, divisive and sometimes crazy things, he has a bit of a zealot following and every time he releases something, it sells out.”

The radio hosts don’t know why the listener who initially purchased the rights to the phrase decided to relinquish them. They speculate that person decided to act once it started going viral again because someone else might be better able to support the effort to curb its profitability.

West has made several divisive comments that have enraged many in the Black community over the years, including his insistence that slavery was a “choice.” His recent antisemitic remarks caused businesses he was affiliated with to sever ties, knocking him off the Forbes billionaires list.

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