Virginia dismisses Falwell's cybersquatting suit

In Falwell v Cohn, a federal court has dismissed evangelist Jerry Falwell's attempt to gain control of the domain names '' and ''. The US District Court for the Western District of Virginia held that Gary Cohn's contacts with the State of Virginia were insufficient to give it personal jurisdiction.

Cohn registered '' (a misspelling of Falwell's surname), and bought the domain name '' (the correct spelling of Falwell's surname). The domain names originally were registered with a registrar in Virginia, but Cohn transferred the registrations to registrars located in other states. Internet users who enter these domain names are directed to a website dedicated to assorted anti-Falwell material.

Cohn, who is a resident of Illinois, moved to dismiss the complaint on various grounds, including that the court lacks personal jurisdiction. The court, relying on the Fourth Circuit's decision in Young v New Haven Advocate, agreed with Cohn stating:

  • Cohn's website is addressed to a national audience and is not aimed at Virginia residents;

  • The website does not discuss anything that relates specifically to Virginia; and

  • Whereas Falwell's church and many of his followers are located in Virginia, Falwell's reputation as a religious leader is nationwide.

In dismissing the action, the court concluded that Cohn "could not have reasonably anticipated being hauled into court" in Virginia. The court did not decide, or even address, the merits of Falwell's claim. However, a World Intellectual Property Organization panel, applying the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, had rejected Falwell's claim in June 2002 saying that Cohn's site is "a legitimate non-commercial or fair use of the domain names".

David Fleming, Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, Chicago

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