Rev. Jerry Falwell, who takes his mission of bringing Jesus to the masses very seriously, is not amused by two Internet parody sites depicting him as a liar and a jerk.
The sites, JerryFalwell.com and JerryFallwell.com, were launched by Illinois resident Gary Cohn, who was angered by the evangelist's tirade blaming the Sept. 11 attacks on feminists, gays and lesbians, among others.
Over the years, Falwell's outlandish comments have earned him a lot of enemies. The preacher has claimed, for example, the anti-Christ was a Jewish man in his 30s and that a character from the British kiddie television show The Teletubbies was gay and "damaging to the moral lives of children."
But his comments a few days after the terrorist attack, blaming the event on "judges who uphold church-state separation, abortion rights activists, gay people, civil liberties activists and others who are 'trying to secularize America,'" were perhaps the most widely reviled. (Falwell later apologized for his comments.)
Cohn was so upset that he registered the preacher's name to poke fun of Falwell and his beliefs. The site's homepage shows Falwell sticking his foot in his mouth repeatedly.
In October, Falwell's lawyer, John Midlen, sent Cohn a cease-and-desist letter charging him with trademark infringement and offering to pay him $1,000 for the domain names.
Cohn, who could not be reached for comment, zipped off a reply, accusing Midlen of cyberbullying and refusing to capitulate. Falwell's official website is Falwell.com.
"This is a completely noncommercial website, which exists for the sole purpose of expressing, through a parody, my opinion that your client is a jerk," he wrote.
Now the matter rests in the hands of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Midlen lodged a complaint on behalf of Falwell in February asking WIPO to transfer the domain names to the evangelist.
The complaint alleges that the domain names infringe on Falwell's trademark (his name), were registered in bad faith (no pun intended) and will lead visitors to false teachings about the Bible.
Although Falwell has never registered his name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it is a recognized common law trademark, Midlen argued. A common law trademar is established when someone promotes goods and services under a specific name.
Cohn's lawyer, Paul Alan Levy of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, derided the complaint"This is a free speech case," Levy said. "Cohn has every right to express his views, and Falwell has two choices: He can ignore (the sites) or he can stop behaving like he does."
Levy's response to the complaint (PDF file) characterizes Falwell as a notoriously humorless right-wing preacher who has historically tried to shush people who make fun of him.
In 1983, for example, Falwell sued Hustler magazine when it published a cartoon satire in which the preacher bragged about having sex with his mother in an outhouse. A lower court awarded Falwell $200,000 for emotional distress, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the cartoon was protected speech.
Levy pointed out other similar cases in which domain names have been registered for the sole purpose of criticizing the company or person referenced in the Web address. The WIPO allowed a dissatisfied customer to keep the domain BosleyMedical.com, for example, which accuses the Bosley Medical Group of misconduct.
Midlen said Falwell intends to take the case to federal court if WIPO does not rule in his favor.