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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Falwell v. Fallwell

Reversing a District Court decision, the Fourth Circuit held that a “gripe site” named “www.fallwell.com” does not infringe the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s trademark rights in his name. Christopher Lamparello registered the domain name and launched a site challenging the Reverend’s views on homosexuality. The site disclaims any connection to the Reverend and provides a link to the Reverend’s own website, “www.falwell.com”.

The court held that Lamparello’s site is not likely to cause confusion.  The court noted that, although Lamparello’s domain name is similar to the Reverend’s trademarks, the websites look very different. Moreover, Lamparello’s website is intended to criticize Falwell’s views, not to “steal customers.” The court determined that, because Lamparello’s site criticizes the Reverend, no one seeking the Reverend’s guidance would be misled to believe that the Reverend authorizes its message.  Likewise, the Reverend was unable to establish a cybersquatting claim because he could not demonstrate that Lamparello had a bad faith intent to profit from the similar domain name.

[Meredith R. Miller]

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