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Falwell Jr. sues Liberty University, alleging trademark infringement

Liberty University campus. BP File Photo

LYNCHBURG, Va. (RNS) — Jerry Falwell Jr., the former president of Liberty University, is suing the school, arguing administrators are committing trademark infringement by using the late Jerry Falwell Sr.’s likeness without consulting with the family.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court last week on behalf of Falwell Jr. and the family trust, accuses the school of misappropriating “for itself” the name and image of Falwell Sr., the conservative Christian evangelist who co-founded the evangelical university in 1971.

“The University has now-repeatedly distributed advertising and promotional materials that use the JERRY FALWELL trademark—as well as Dr. Falwell’s name and image—in a manner that is likely to leave consumers confused as to the relationship between Liberty University and the JERRY FALWELL brand and the Falwell Family Trust,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit claims the school has already created a custom font based on Falwell Sr.’s handwriting for advertising purposes and even created a hologram of the late evangelist. It also notes the school’s intention to create a Jerry Falwell Center on campus as a welcome center for future students, a move it alleges also infringes on the trademark.

Falwell Sr., a pastor and nationally known televangelist who emerged as a prominent political figure in the 1990s, ran the school until he died at his desk in 2007. It struggled financially during his tenure but rebounded under his son, Falwell Jr., who invested heavily in online education. During his tenure Liberty became one of the largest Christian schools in the country.

Falwell Jr. resigned as president of the evangelical Christian school in 2020 in the wake of a series of scandals involving his family, including allegations that his wife, Becki, had a years-long sexual relationship with a business associate.

Asked about the lawsuit, a Liberty spokesperson said the school prefers not to comment on active litigation but sent along a statement to provide context. The spokesperson argued Falwell Sr.’s name is “synonymous with Liberty University, and for decades has been used across campus, including on buildings such as the Jerry Falwell Museum and the Jerry Falwell Library.”

In addition, the spokesperson alleged the lawsuit is a response to a request made by Falwell Jr. for Liberty “to pay $7 million dollars for his permission to continue to use the name of Liberty’s founder for the next four years” and allow the former president to maintain “total editorial control of Liberty’s use of the name of Liberty’s founder.” The school, the spokesperson said, denied the request.

“Liberty University is confident it will ultimately prevail in this case and the university will be able to maintain its use of the name of its founder,” the statement concluded.

From Religion News Service, may not be republished.

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  • Jack Jenkins