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Commerce vs Commentary: Gripe Sites, Parody and the First Amendment in Cyberspace

Jacqueline D. Lipton

University of Akron - School of Law; University of Houston Law Center

August 21, 2006

Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-14

The Global Online Freedom Bill of 2006 emphasizes the importance of freedom of speech on the Internet as a fundamental human right. However, the backbone of the World Wide Web, the Internet domain name system, is a poor example of protecting free speech, particularly in terms of the balance between speech and commercial trademark interests. This is apparent from the manner in which the legislature and the judiciary deal with cases involving Internet gripe sites and parody sites. The lack of a clear consensus on the protection of free speech in these contexts is troubling, and can be found in a number of recent cases including: use of the peta.org domain name for a parody site on the activities of 'People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals'; use of 'bosleymedical.com' for a gripe site about the practices of the Bosley Medical Institute; and, use of a misspelling of the Reverend Jerry Falwell's last name (fallwell.com) for a website critical of the Reverend's viewpoints on homosexuality. This article examines how trademark law has come to trump freedom of expression under the domain name system, and makes recommendations for regulatory reform to ensure a better balance of rights in the future. In particular, it suggests the development of presumptions against trademark infringement in cases clearly involving criticism or parody of a trademark holder in cyberspace.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 44

Keywords: trademark, domain name, first amendment, free speech, Internet, ICANN, WIPO

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19, K20, K33, K40

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Date posted: August 22, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Lipton, Jacqueline D., Commerce vs Commentary: Gripe Sites, Parody and the First Amendment in Cyberspace (August 21, 2006). Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-14. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=925691 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.925691

Contact Information

Jacqueline Deborah Lipton (Contact Author)
University of Akron - School of Law ( email )
150 University Ave.
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States
University of Houston Law Center ( email )
4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States
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