RICHMOND, Va. A federal judge has ruled that a gay activist must stop using a variation of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s name in the address for a Web site critical of the conservative television evangelist.
In a ruling released yesterday, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton in Alexandria said the domain name for the site, fallwell.com, was “nearly identical” to the registered trademark “Jerry Falwell” name and was likely to confuse Web surfers.
Hilton said the operator of the site, Christopher Lamparello of New York, intended to “tarnish or disparage” the Lynchburg minister by diverting people from the Jerry Falwell Ministries’ Web site, falwell.com. Hilton said it was likely Internet users will believe the two sites “share a common affiliation or sponsorship.”
Hilton also ruled that Lamparello sought to make a profit by selling a book on the site via a link to amazon.com.
Falwell hailed the ruling yesterday, saying “one cannot infringe on the trademark of another person or company and pretend it is within their First Amendment rights.”
“This is not only an attempt to infringe on my name for personal gain, but this person for whatever reason is hostile to the message of the gospel I preach and was therefore trying to do damage to the message I deliver,” he said in a telephone interview.
Lamparello could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Paul Levy of Public Citizen Litigation Group, said his client has the constitutional right to use the domain name, and he planned to appeal.
Levy said courts have ruled in favor of other Web site operators with domain names similar to trademarked names. He said federal trademark law does not allow people to “appropriate a name for yourself for all purposes.”
“Because it’s a permissible use of a trademark word to describe the trademark item, the First Amendment protects your right to use that word in a non-confusing manner,” Levy said.
Lamparello’s site criticizes Falwell’s views against homosexuality and includes a disclaimer that says the site is not affiliated with Jerry Falwell Ministries.
In large red letters on the home page, the site reads, “The Reverend Jerry Falwell is completely wrong when he says that gay and lesbian people are sinning and can change.” Links take visitors to pages that challenge the Bible’s views on homosexuality and accuse Falwell of breaking one of the Ten Commandments by bearing false witness against his gay and lesbian neighbors.
Last year, an Illinois man gave up the domain names jerryfalwell.com and jerryfallwell.com after Falwell threatened to sue him over trademark infringement.
Gary Cohn, of Highland Park, Ill., said he created the sites in response to Falwell’s public comments following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Falwell claimed feminists, homosexuals and abortion-rights advocates provoked God to “lift the curtain” of divine protection on America.
Falwell later apologized for his comments. He said he is now being attacked for his support of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
“There is terrific animosity from the radical gay lobbying groups to silence anyone who doesn’t agree with their philosophy or their behavior,” Falwell said.