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Rev. Tinkywinky loses battle to shut down 'Fallwell.com' web site

Free speech rules. The AmTaliban master cannot keep a critic from using the Fallwell.com domain. The idea that this guy was cybersquatting on a domain that is a misspelling of the Rev. Tinkywinky’s last name is preposterous. The minister can dish it out, but he cannot take it.

A Web site with a domain name resembling Rev. Jerry Falwell’s can continue to vent about the preacher’s anti-gay views, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court’s ruling, which had prohibited Christopher Lamparello from “maintaining a gripe Web site critical of Jerry Falwell,” the appeals court opinion said.

Falwell’s attorney, John Midlen, said he was “disappointed and dismayed” at the decision and plans to seek a rehearing, while Lamparello’s attorney, Paul Levy, in an e-mail hailed the decision as “a very important Internet free-speech decision, perhaps the most significant of our domain name cases from the past several years.”

Lamparello registered Fallwell.com in 1999 after hearing Falwell give an interview containing what he considered to be offensive opinions about homosexuality, according to the appeals court opinion. The front page of the site, Fallwell.com, implores visitors to continue exploring the site “to see why Rev. Falwell is completely wrong about people who are gay or lesbian.” Inside, it links to articles intended to dispel what Lamparello deemed untruths about gay people. It also contains disclaimers that contain links to Falwell’s official site.

Falwell sent Lamparello letters in October 2001 and June 2003 demanding that the site be taken down and ultimately filed claims of trademark infringement, false designation of origin, unfair competition and cybersquatting. A district court last year enjoined Lamparello from using the domain name and required him to transfer it to Falwell.

But the appeals court viewed the situation in a different light. One of the major factors in trademark cases, the court said, is whether use of a similar name creates a “likelihood of confusion” for those who read it.

In this case, “it was so clear that his Web site did not create any likelihood of confusion about whether Falwell sponsored it,” Levy said in an e-mail. The court agreed. “Lamparello’s Web site looks nothing like Reverend Falwell’s; indeed, Lamparello has made no attempt to imitate Reverend Falwell’s Web site,” wrote Judge Diana Motz.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding