Type Well or You'll Find Fallwell (Not Falwell)
The Supremes this week took no direct action on the case of the dueling web sites--falwell vs. fallwell--but rather passed on the whole dispute. That lets stand a federal appeals court ruling protecting the right of a gay activist in New York City to maintain a "gripe site" designed to capture some of the traffic that was trying to get to Virginia preacher Jerry Falwell's site.
Christopher Lamparello's anti-Falwell site focuses on the minister's anti-gay rhetoric and fits into what's now a pretty well developed body of sites designed to satirize or criticize the sites whose addresses they mimic almost perfectly. Actually, Lamparello's site is more courteous than most such efforts, in that he includes disclaimers on every page and even provides a handy link to the real Falwell site.
Most gripe sites are pretty crass attempts to get back at a loathed employer or a company that had the audacity to rip off a customer who knows HTML. Here's a guy who had his own rough experience with a gripe site and has now come to the defense of all folks who want to use the web to get back at their oppressor.
Ralph Nader's Public Citizen has taken up the cause of authors of gripe sites, with considerable success.
In a few especially rewarding cases, owners of gripe sites have even won damages from the big boys who tried to shut them down. My favorite of these cases involved a Dallas man, Henry Mishkoff, who set up a gripe site not to gripe, but to praise his favorite shopping mall. The nitwits who run the mall, the Taubman Company, sued the guy anyway, just for using their name. After all too much back and forth, the courts ruled for the mall fan, under the fairly simple principle that, as the federal appeals court said,
"Taubman concedes that Mishkoff is 'free to shout "Taubman Sucks!" from the rooftops'... Essentially, this is what he has done in his domain name. The rooftops of our past have evolved into the internet domain names of our present."
Free speech should always trump laws protecting commerce; luckily, here's one corner of the law where speech is indeed winning out.
By Marc Fisher |
April 21, 2006; 7:27 AM ET
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