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Lamparello v. Falwell

Christopher Lamparello created a web site to criticize Jerry Falwell’s views on homosexuality, using the domain name fallwell.com. Falwell brought a proceeding to transfer the domain name in the UDRP, and after a UDRP panel ruled in Falwell’s favor Lamparello sued in federal court in Virginia to keep his domain name, arguing that his site was noncommercial and that he was entitled to use Falwell’s name — or, in this case, a play on Falwell’s name — for a web site about Falwell. Noting that, for a period of time, Lamparello’s web site had praised a book about how biblical verses said to condemn homosexuality should be interpreted, and that the site had linked to Amazon.com where the book could be bought, the trial judge decided that the site was sufficiently commercial to be subject to the trademark laws, and also that an adverse impact on Falwell’s business would be enough in any event. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, specifically declining to address issues of noncommercial use but holding that the domain name was not likely to cause confusion and that the controversial new doctrine of “initial interest confusion” could not be used to find liability. The briefs also discuss the statute of limitations for trademark claims, as well as the standards for damages and attorney fees, which the district court declined to impose.  Falwell’s petition for rehearing was denied.