Commentary Site Can Stay
4th Circuit rules “Gripe” site OK (at least under trademark law anyway)
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has joined the cause of free speech supporters by refusing to order the shut down of the website http://www.fallwell.com/, which posts material which is critical of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and his views on homosexuality. Falwell claimed that the website domain, which is a deliberate misspelling of his name constituted trademark infringement under the Lanham Act and violated the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. In an opinion written by Circuit Judge Dianna Gribbon Motz, the panel stated that “No one would believe that Reverend Falwell sponsored a site criticizing himself, his positions and his interpretations of the Bible”. Therefore, there was not a likelihood of confusion with the opinions expressed on the “gripe” site and those expressed by Rev. Falwell. Additionally, Falwell could not prevail on an Anticybersquatting claim because he cannot show that the operators acted in “bad faith” when they registered the domain fallwell.com as their site constituted a legitimate use, they did not register multiple domains with the intent of preventing Falwell from registereing them, and the owners had never contacted Falwell and attempted to sell the domain to him.
So just a hint to business owners, major corporations or others who do not wish to have “gripe” sites out there with highly visible domains – register common misspellings and the classic "Insert your domain here" sucks.com yourself! If you own them – your enemies cannot. While you are at it, grab the .net .org .biz .us versions also. For a few hundred dollars you can help protect yourself from embarassment and lost sales that can occur when peoople misspell your domain name and wind up on of these “gripe” sites.