Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge MOTZ wrote the opinion, in which Judge MICHAEL and Judge KING joined.
DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge.
Christopher Lamparello appeals the district court's order enjoining him from maintaining a gripe website critical of Reverend Jerry Falwell. For the reasons stated below, we reverse.
Reverend Falwell is "a nationally known minister who has been active as a commentator on politics and public affairs." Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 47, 108 S.Ct. 876, 99 L.Ed.2d 41 (1988). He holds the common law trademarks "Jerry Falwell" and "Falwell," and the registered trademark "Listen America with Jerry Falwell." Jerry Falwell Ministries can be found online at "www.falwell.com," a website which receives 9,000 hits (or visits) per day.
Lamparello registered the domain name "www.fallwell.com" on February 11, 1999, after hearing Reverend Falwell give an interview "in which he expressed opinions about gay people and homosexuality that [Lamparello] considered ... offensive." Lamparello created a website at that domain name to respond to what he believed were "untruths about gay people." Lamparello's website included headlines such as "Bible verses that Dr. Falwell chooses to ignore" and "Jerry Falwell has been bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16) against his gay and lesbian neighbors for a long time." The site also contained indepth criticism of Reverend Falwell's views. For example, the website stated:
Although the interior pages of Lamparello's website did not contain a disclaimer, the homepage prominently stated, "This website is NOT affiliated with Jerry Falwell or his ministry"; advised, "If you would like to visit Rev. Falwell's website, you may click here"; and provided a hyperlink to Reverend Falwell's website.
At one point, Lamparello's website included a link to the Amazon.com webpage for a book that offered interpretations of the Bible that Lamparello favored, but the parties agree that Lamparello has never sold goods or services on his website. The parties also agree that "Lamparello's domain name and web site at www.fallwell.com," which received only 200 hits per day, "had no measurable impact on the quantity of visits to [Reverend Falwell's] web site at www.falwell.com."
The parties stipulated to all relevant facts and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to Reverend Falwell, enjoined Lamparello from using Reverend Falwell's mark at www.fallwell.com, and required Lamparello to transfer the domain name to Reverend Falwell. Lamparello, 360 F.Supp.2d at 773, 775. However, the court denied Reverend Falwell's request for statutory damages or attorney fees, reasoning that the "primary motive" of Lamparello's website was "to put forth opinions on issues that were contrary to those of [Reverend Falwell]" and "not to take away monies or to profit." Id. at 775.
Lamparello appeals the district court's order; Reverend Falwell cross-appeals the denial of statutory damages and attorney fees. We review de novo a district court's ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment. See People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Doughney, 263 F.3d 359, 364 (4th Cir.2001) [hereinafter "PETA"].
We first consider Reverend Falwell's claims of trademark infringement and false designation of origin.
Section 32 of the Lanham Act creates a cause of action against:
15 U.S.C. § 1114(1). Similarly, Section 43(a) creates a cause of action against:
15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A).
Both infringement and false designation of origin have five elements. To prevail under either cause of action, the trademark holder must prove:
PETA, 263 F.3d at 364 (citing 15 U.S.C. §§ 1114, 1125, and Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, 43 F.3d at 930).
Trademark law serves the important functions of protecting product identification, providing consumer information, and encouraging the production of quality goods and services. See Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 164, 115 S.Ct. 1300, 131 L.Ed.2d 248 (1995). But protections "`against unfair competition'" cannot be transformed into "`rights to control language.'" CPC Int'l, Inc. v. Skippy Inc., 214 F.3d 456, 462 (4th Cir.2000) (quoting Mark A. Lemley, The Modern Lanham Act and the Death of Common Sense, 108 Yale L.J. 1687, 1710-11 (1999)). "Such a transformation" would raise serious First Amendment concerns because it would limit the
Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Lamparello and his amici argue at length that application of the Lanham Act must be restricted to "commercial speech" to assure that trademark law does not become a tool for unconstitutional censorship. The Sixth Circuit has endorsed this view, see Taubman Co. v. Webfeats, 319 F.3d 770, 774 (6th Cir.2003), and the Ninth Circuit recently has done so as well, see Bosley Med. Inst., Inc. v. Kremer, 403 F.3d 672, 674 (9th Cir.2005).
In its two most significant recent amendments to the Lanham Act, the Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995 ("FTDA") and the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 ("ACPA"), Congress left little doubt that it did not intend for trademark laws to impinge the First Amendment rights of critics and commentators. The dilution statute applies to only a "commercial use in commerce of a mark," 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)(1), and explicitly states that the "[n]oncommercial use of a mark" is not actionable. Id. § 1125(c)(4). Congress explained that this language was added to "adequately address legitimate First Amendment concerns," H.R.Rep. No. 104-374, at 4 (1995), reprinted in 1995 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1029, 1031, and "incorporate[d] the concept of `commercial' speech from the `commercial speech' doctrine." Id. at 8, reprinted in 1995 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 1035; cf. Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly, 533 U.S. 525, 554, 121 S.Ct. 2404, 150 L.Ed.2d 532 (2001) (defining commercial
In contrast, the trademark infringement and false designation of origin provisions of the Lanham Act (Sections 32 and 43(a), respectively) do not employ the term "noncommercial." They do state, however, that they pertain only to the use of a mark "in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of any goods or services," 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1)(a), or "in connection with any goods or services," id. § 1125(a)(1). But courts have been reluctant to define those terms narrowly.
Thus, even if we accepted Lamparello's contention that Sections 32 and 43(a) of the Lanham Act apply only to commercial speech, we would still face the difficult question of what constitutes such speech under those provisions. In the case at hand, we need not resolve that question or determine whether Sections 32 and 43(a) apply exclusively to commercial speech because Reverend Falwell's claims of trademark infringement and false designation fail for a more obvious reason. The hallmark of such claims is a likelihood of confusion — and there is no likelihood of confusion here.
"[T]he use of a competitor's mark that does not cause confusion as to source is permissible." Dorr-Oliver, Inc. v. Fluid-Quip, Inc., 94 F.3d 376, 380 (7th Cir.1996). Accordingly, Lamparello can only be liable for infringement and false designation if his use of Reverend Falwell's mark would be likely to cause confusion as to the source of the website found at www.fallwell.com. This likelihood-of-confusion test "generally strikes a comfortable balance" between the First Amendment and the rights of markholders. Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc., 296 F.3d 894, 900 (9th Cir.2002).
We have identified seven factors helpful in determining whether a likelihood of confusion exists as to the source of a work, but "not all these factors are always relevant or equally emphasized in each
Reverend Falwell's mark is distinctive, and the domain name of Lamparello's website, www.fallwell.com, closely resembles it. But, although Lamparello and Reverend Falwell employ similar marks online, Lamparello's website looks nothing like Reverend Falwell's; indeed, Lamparello has made no attempt to imitate Reverend Falwell's website. Moreover, Reverend Falwell does not even argue that Lamparello's website constitutes advertising or a facility for business, let alone a facility or advertising similar to that of Reverend Falwell. Furthermore, Lamparello clearly created his website intending only to provide a forum to criticize ideas, not to steal customers.
Most importantly, Reverend Falwell and Lamparello do not offer similar goods or services. Rather they offer opposing ideas and commentary. Reverend Falwell's mark identifies his spiritual and political views; the website at www.fallwell.com criticizes those very views. After even a quick glance at the content of the website at www.fallwell.com, no one seeking Reverend Falwell's guidance would be misled by the domain name — www.fallwell.com — into believing Reverend Falwell authorized the content of that website. No one would believe that Reverend Falwell sponsored a site criticizing himself, his positions, and his interpretations of the Bible. See New Kids on the Block v. News Am. Publ'g, Inc., 971 F.2d 302, 308-09 (9th Cir.1992) (stating that use of a mark to solicit criticism of the markholder implies the markholder is not the sponsor of the use).
Finally, the fact that people contacted Reverend Falwell's ministry to report that they found the content at www.fallwell.com antithetical to Reverend Falwell's views does not illustrate, as Reverend Falwell claims, that the website engendered actual confusion. To the contrary, the anecdotal evidence Reverend Falwell submitted shows that those searching for Reverend Falwell's site and arriving instead at Lamparello's site quickly realized that Reverend Falwell was not the source of the content therein.
For all of these reasons, it is clear that the undisputed record evidences no likelihood of confusion. In fact, Reverend Falwell even conceded at oral argument that those viewing the content of Lamparello's website probably were unlikely to confuse Reverend Falwell with the source of that material.
Nevertheless, Reverend Falwell argues that he is entitled to prevail under the "initial interest confusion" doctrine. This relatively new and sporadically applied doctrine holds that "the Lanham Act
First, we have never adopted the initial interest confusion theory; rather, we have followed a very different mode of analysis, requiring courts to determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists by "examin[ing] the allegedly infringing use in the context in which it is seen by the ordinary consumer." Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. L & L Wings, Inc., 962 F.2d 316, 319 (4th Cir.1992) (emphasis added) (citing cases); see also What-A-Burger of Va., Inc. v. Whataburger, Inc., 357 F.3d 441, 450 (4th Cir.2004).
Contrary to Reverend Falwell's arguments, we did not abandon this approach in PETA. Our inquiry in PETA was limited to whether Doughney's use of the domain name "www.peta.org" constituted a successful enough parody of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that no one was likely to believe www.peta.org was sponsored or endorsed by that organization. For a parody to be successful, it "must convey two simultaneous — and contradictory — messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody." PETA, 263 F.3d at 366 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Doughney argued that his domain name conveyed the first message (that it was PETA's website) and that the content of his website conveyed the requisite second message (that it was not PETA's site). Id. Although "[t]he website's content ma[de] it clear that it [wa]s not related to PETA," id., we concluded that the website's content could not convey the requisite second message because the site's content "[wa]s not conveyed simultaneously with the first message, [i.e., the domain name itself,] as required to be considered a parody." Id. at 366. Accordingly, we found the "district court properly rejected Doughney's parody defense." Id. at 367.
PETA simply outlines the parameters of the parody defense; it does not adopt the initial interest confusion theory or otherwise diminish the necessity of examining context when determining whether a likelihood of confusion exists. Indeed, in PETA itself, rather than embracing a new approach, we reiterated that "[t]o determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists, a court should not consider how closely a fragment of a given use duplicates the trademark, but must instead consider whether the use in its entirety creates a likelihood of confusion." Id. at 366 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (emphasis added). When dealing with domain names, this means a court must evaluate an allegedly infringing domain name in conjunction with the content of the website identified by the domain name.
Profiting financially from initial interest confusion is thus a key element for imposition of liability under this theory.
This critical element — use of another firm's mark to capture the markholder's customers and profits — simply does not exist when the alleged infringer establishes a gripe site that criticizes the markholder. See Hannibal Travis, The Battle For Mindshare: The Emerging Consensus that the First Amendment Protects Corporate Criticism and Parody on the Internet, 10 Va. J.L. & Tech. 3, 85 (Winter 2005) ("The premise of the `initial interest' confusion cases is that by using the plaintiff's trademark to divert its customers, the defendant is engaging in the old `bait and switch.' But because ... Internet users who find [gripe sites] are not sold anything, the mark may be the `bait,' but there is simply no `switch.'") (citations omitted).
In sum, even if we were to accept the initial interest confusion theory, that theory would not apply in the case at hand. Rather, to determine whether a likelihood of confusion exists as to the source of a gripe site like that at issue in this case, a court must look not only to the allegedly infringing domain name, but also to the underlying content of the website. When we do so here, it is clear, as explained above, that no likelihood of confusion exists. Therefore, the district court erred in granting Reverend Falwell summary judgment on his infringement, false designation, and unfair competition claims.
We evaluate Reverend Falwell's cybersquatting claim separately because the elements of a cybersquatting violation differ from those of traditional Lanham Act violations. To prevail on a cybersquatting claim, Reverend Falwell must show that Lamparello: (1) "had a bad faith intent to profit from using the [www.fallwell.com] domain name," and (2) the domain name www.fallwell.com "is identical or confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, the distinctive and famous [Falwell] mark." PETA, 263 F.3d at 367 (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(A)).
"The paradigmatic harm that the ACPA was enacted to eradicate" is "the practice of cybersquatters registering several hundred domain names in an effort to sell them to the legitimate owners of the mark." Lucas Nursery & Landscaping, Inc. v. Grosse, 359 F.3d 806, 810 (6th Cir.2004). The Act was also intended to stop the registration of multiple marks with the hope of selling them to the highest bidder, "distinctive marks to defraud consumers" or "to engage in counterfeiting activities," and "well-known marks to prey on consumer confusion by misusing the domain name to divert customers from the mark owner's site to the cybersquatter's own site, many of which are pornography sites that derive advertising revenue based on the number of visits, or `hits,' the site receives." S.Rep. No. 106-140, 1999 WL 594571, at *5-6. The Act was not intended to prevent "noncommercial uses of a mark, such as for comment, criticism, parody,
To distinguish abusive domain name registrations from legitimate ones, the ACPA directs courts to consider nine nonexhaustive factors:
15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i); see also H.R.Rep. No. 106-412 (1999), 1999 WL 970519, at *10.
These factors attempt "to balance the property interests of trademark owners with the legitimate interests of Internet users and others who seek to make lawful uses of others' marks, including for purposes such as comparative advertising, comment, criticism, parody, news reporting, fair use, etc." H.R.Rep. No. 106-412, 1999 WL 970519, at *10 (emphasis added). "The first four [factors] suggest circumstances that may tend to indicate an absence of bad-faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a mark, and the others suggest circumstances that may tend to indicate that such bad-faith intent exists." Id. However, "[t]here is no simple formula for evaluating and weighing these factors. For example, courts do not simply count up which party has more factors in its favor after the evidence is in." Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 234 (4th Cir.2002). In fact, because use of these listed factors is permissive, "[w]e need not ... march through" them all in every case. Virtual Works, Inc. v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 238 F.3d 264, 269 (4th Cir.2001). "The factors are
After close examination of the undisputed facts involved in this case, we can only conclude that Reverend Falwell cannot demonstrate that Lamparello "had a bad faith intent to profit from using the [www.fallwell.com] domain name." PETA, 263 F.3d at 367. Lamparello clearly employed www.fallwell.com simply to criticize Reverend Falwell's views. Factor IV of the ACPA, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i)(IV), counsels against finding a bad faith intent to profit in such circumstances because "use of a domain name for purposes of ... comment, [and] criticism," H.R.Rep. No. 106-412, 1999 WL 970519, at *11, constitutes a "bona fide noncommercial or fair use" under the statute, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i)(IV).
Equally important, Lamparello has not engaged in the type of conduct described in the statutory factors as typifying the bad faith intent to profit essential to a successful cybersquatting claim. First, we have already held, supra Part II.B, that Lamparello's domain name does not create a likelihood of confusion as to source or affiliation. Accordingly, Lamparello has not engaged in the type of conduct — "creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the site," 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i)(V) — described as an indicator of a bad faith intent to profit in factor V of the statute.
Factors VI and VIII also counsel against finding a bad faith intent to profit here. Lamparello has made no attempt — or even indicated a willingness — "to transfer, sell, or otherwise assign the domain name to [Reverend Falwell] or any third party for financial gain." 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i)(VI). Similarly, Lamparello has not registered "multiple domain names," 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i)(VIII); rather, the record indicates he has registered only one. Thus, Lamparello's conduct is not of the suspect variety described in factors VI and VIII of the Act.
Notably, the case at hand differs markedly from those in which the courts have found a bad faith intent to profit from domain names used for websites engaged in political commentary or parody. For
Instead, Lamparello, like the plaintiffs in two cases recently decided by the Fifth and Sixth Circuits, created a gripe site. Both courts expressly refused to find that gripe sites located at domain names nearly identical to the marks at issue violated the ACPA. In TMI, Inc. v. Maxwell, 368 F.3d 433, 434-35 (5th Cir.2004), Joseph Maxwell, a customer of homebuilder TMI, registered the domain name "www.trendmakerhome.com," which differed by only one letter from TMI's mark, TrendMaker Homes, and its domain name, "www.trendmakerhomes.com." Maxwell used the site to complain about his experience with TMI and to list the name of a contractor whose work pleased him. After his registration expired, Maxwell registered "www.trendmakerhome.info." TMI then sued, alleging cybersquatting. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's finding that Maxwell violated the ACPA, reasoning that his site was noncommercial and designed only "to inform potential customers about a negative experience with the company." Id. at 438-39.
Similarly, in Lucas Nursery & Landscaping, a customer of Lucas Nursery registered the domain name "www.lucasnursery.com" and posted her dissatisfaction with the company's landscaping services. Because the registrant, Grosse, like Lamparello, registered a single domain name, the Sixth Circuit concluded that her conduct did not constitute that which Congress intended to proscribe — i.e., the registration of multiple domain names. Lucas Nursery & Landscaping, 359 F.3d at 810. Noting that Grosse's gripe site did not create any confusion as to sponsorship and that she had never attempted to sell the domain name to the markholder, the court found that Grosse's conduct was not actionable under the ACPA. The court explained: "One of the ACPA's main objectives is the protection of consumers from slick internet peddlers who trade on the names and reputations of established brands. The practice of informing fellow consumers of one's experience with a particular service provider is surely not inconsistent with this ideal." Id. at 811.
Like Maxwell and Grosse before him, Lamparello has not evidenced a bad faith intent to profit under the ACPA. To the contrary, he has used www.fallwell.com to engage in the type of "comment[and] criticism" that Congress specifically stated militates against a finding of bad faith intent to profit. See S.Rep. No. 106-140, 1999 WL 594571, at *14. And he has neither registered multiple domain names nor attempted to transfer www.fall.well.com
For the foregoing reasons, Lamparello, rather than Reverend Falwell, is entitled to summary judgment on all counts.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.