Televangelist Falwell loses cybersquatting claim


Jerry Falwell, the controversial US televangelist and political activist, has lost a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) decision to obtain ownership of two domain names - '' and '' - currently being used to criticize and lambaste him.

The three-member WIPO panel found that Falwell's name, although well known, has not "been used in a trademark sense as a label of particular goods or services". Rather, Falwell uses his name "to advance his views as to morality and religion." The panellists held that the cybersquatting claim failed, relying on a recent WIPO report which concluded that personal names should be protected from cybersquatting only where the names have been commercially exploited.

Two of the three panellists also found that the websites' owner, Gary Cohn, is making "legitimate non-commercial use" of the domain names in his criticism of Falwell, betraying no intent to gain financially or to mislead internet users. "Whether the commentary is in good taste, whether it is funny, whether it is effective, all is beside the point." (The dissenting arbitrator noted that use of a domain name to harm another person can rarely be considered legitimate.)

Falwell has since filed a lawsuit against Cohn in an attempt to gain control of the domain names. If he relies on US federal statutes that offer protection from cyberpiracy for individuals, he may lose, as under 15 US Code Section 1129, a defendant cannot be held liable absent "specific intent to profit [...] by selling the domain name for financial gain."

Jonathan M Eisenberg, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Los Angeles

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