Photo: Courtesy of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (http://www.naacp.org/pages/press-resources)
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has overturned a ruling that said an article attacking non-profit organisation the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) infringed a trademark owned by the group.
In its ruling on Tuesday (May 19), the fourth circuit said that the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia extended trademark rights too far when it ruled that an article by Christian rights group The Radiance Foundation had infringed the NAACP’s trademark.
At the centre of the row is an article called “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People”, which was published in 2013.
The article focused on the NACCP’s stance on the issue of abortion rights and was published on two websites owned by The Radiance Foundation as well as on Christian news website LifeNews.com.
Shortly after the article was published, the NAACP asked The Radiance Foundation to remove the article.
Later that year, the foundation sought a declaratory judgment that its article was protected under its free speech rights. The NAACP filed a counterclaim arguing that the article infringed its trademark.
The district court found in favour of the NAACP in 2014, stating that the article did not qualify as a “parody” and therefore could not be protected under free speech laws.
It added that the appearance of the article near the top of Google searches for the phrase ‘NAACP’ caused “dilution by tarnishment by associating the NAACP and its marks with a pro-abortion position”.
The district court also issued an injunction against the article preventing it from appearing online.
But the fourth circuit overturned the verdict on Tuesday. It ruled that the district court “extended the Lanham Act beyond the purposes it was intended to serve”.
“If the general rule was that the use of the mark merely had to be in connection with the trademark owner’s goods or services, then even the most offhand mention of a trademark owner’s mark could potentially satisfy the ‘in connection’ with requirement.”
Ryan Bomberger, chief creative officer at The Radiance Foundation, told TBO: "The fourth circuit crushed the NAACP's outrageous attempts to abuse trademark law to silence speech it didn't like."
The NAACP had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
NAACP; US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Radiance; trademark infringement; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia;