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Falwell Trying to Shut Down Web Site Parodies

JerryFalwell.com and JerryFallwell.com were launched last year by Cohn, who was “angered by the evangelist’s tirade blaming the Sept. 11 attacks on feminists, gays and lesbians, among others,” according to Wired.com.

The well-known evangelist’s second attempt to shut down a Web site that parodies him is misguided, said attorneys for the site’s creator, Gary Cohn.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
JerryFalwell<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />.com and JerryFallwell.com were launched last year by Cohn, who was “angered by the evangelist’s tirade blaming the Sept. 11 attacks on feminists, gays and lesbians, among others,” according to Wired.com.
 
Shortly after the site went up, John Midlen, Falwell’s attorney, sent Cohn a cease and desist letter demanding Cohn turn over the domain names, Citizen.org reported. Cohn refused. Falwell then filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization alleging trademark violations, even though Falwell had never registered his name as a trademark.
 
When the WIPO rejected his claim, Falwell decided to take his complaint to federal court.
 
On June 20, Falwell sued Cohn in the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Virginia, alleging trademark violations and libel.
 
Public Citizen, which along with the ACLU of Virginia is representing Cohn, filed a motion with the court on Sept. 9 calling on the court to dismiss the case, according to Citizen.org.
 
CNET.com reported that the brief mainly argues that Cohn should not be sued in Virginia because he lives in Illinois.
 
“It’s important to protect the evolving, but pretty close to established, principle throughout the country that people who express their opinions on passive noncommercial Web sites can only be sued at home,” Paul Levy, an attorney for Cohn, wrote in the brief. “Otherwise, people who don’t have profits against which to balance the risks of having to spend money on a lawyer would be chilled from speaking clearly.”
 
The brief also stated that Falwell’s trademark claim should be dismissed because Cohn’s site is noncommercial, and the libel charges are ridiculous because “the statement that Falwell is a ‘false prophet’ is an opinion that cannot be proved true or false,” CNET.com reported.
 
Public Citizen contended that at the heart of the suit is Cohn’s First Amendment right to free speech.
 
“This is a free speech case,” Levy told Wired.com. “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.”
 
The Falwell parody is not unique to Cohn. Falwell has been frequent fodder for skits on “Saturday Night Live” and stand-up comedy routines on many late-night TV shows.
 
In 1983, he sued Hustler magazine for publishing a cartoon satire about him having sex with his mother in an outhouse.
 
Falwell was initially awarded $200,000 for emotional distress, according to the court documents, but the decision was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because the cartoon was considered protected speech.
 
No trial date has been set for Falwell’s most recent suit.