Aug. 24, 2005
Rev. Jerry Falwell Loses Bid to Shut Down Disapproving Web Site
Falwell Sued New York Man to Shut Down Web Site Criticizing Stance on Homosexuality
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a victory for free speech on the Internet, a New York man ordered to transfer the domain name www.fallwell.comto the Rev. Jerry Falwell will be allowed to keep the Web site, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled.
Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy represented the New York man, Christopher Lamparello. Lamparello runs a Web site that criticizes Falwell’s views on homosexuality. Falwell sought to transfer the domain name, and after a Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy panel ruled in Falwell’s favor, Lamparello sued in federal court in Virginia to keep his domain name. Noting that for a period of time, Lamparello’s Web site had praised a book and linked to Amazon.com where the book could be bought, a trial judge decided that the site was sufficiently commercial to be subject to the trademark laws and ruled in Falwell’s favor. Lamparello appealed the decision, and the case was argued in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in May.
Public Citizen, which has been a strong defender of First Amendment rights on the Internet, argued that Lamparello’s speech is indisputably protected and not applicable to trademark laws because the site features noncommercial speech. Levy also asserted that the District Court’s opinion should have been reversed because viewers of the Web site were unlikely to be confused about whether Falwell sponsors the Lamparello Web site.
“Lamparello’s website looks nothing like Reverend Falwell’s,” the court ruled today. “Lamparello clearly created his website intending only to provide a forum to criticize ideas, not to steal customers.”
“This is a victory for First Amendment rights on the Internet,” said Levy. “We are pleased that the court agreed that Mr. Lamparello has a right to use Falwell’s name when criticizing him, and has every right to do so on the Internet.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and Intellectual Property Law Faculty defended Lamparello’s Web site with “friend of the court” briefs. Local counsel was Ray Battocchi of McLean, Va. The court’s decision is available here.