Fallwell.com website dedicated to criticizing minister’s views on homosexualityThe American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, along with the National ACLU, today filed a friend-of-the court brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Christopher Lamparello, who runs a website with the domain name fallwell.com.
Lamparello’s website is dedicated to criticizing Rev. Jerry Falwell’s views on homosexuality. At the top of the site’s home page is a disclaimer that states, “T his website is NOT affiliated with Jerry Falwell or his ministry. If you would like to visit Rev. Falwell's website, you may click here. ” Clicking on the word “here” leads to Falwell’s official site at falwell.com.
Falwell sued Lamparello last year in Federal Court in Alexandria. Falwell claimed that Lamparello violated federal trademark law by using a common misspelling of Falwell’s name as a domain name. Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled in favor of Falwell and ordered Lamparello to stop using the fallwell.com domain name. Lamparello’s appeal is now pending in the Fourth Circuit.
The ACLU brief argues that Lamparello’s use of the fallwell.com domain name is protected by the First Amendment. The brief contends that a domain name operates much like the title of a book or movie, in that it describes the content of the website. Using a domain name like fallwell.com is the best way to attract readers who are interested in the topic of Jerry Falwell.
The brief also points out that Lamparello has not used Falwell’s name to turn a profit, but only to engage in constitutionally protected criticism of a well-known public figure.
“The Internet provides unique opportunities for ordinary citizens to speak to a world-wide audience on matters of public concern,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “Trademark law must not be used to inhibit the freedom of speech in this powerful new medium.”
This case, Falwell v. Lamparello, is unrelated to Falwell v. Cohn, in which the ACLU of Virginia argued that Falwell could not take legal action in Virginia against an Illinois man who created a website critical of Falwell’s views.
ACLU of Virginia Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director 804-644-8022