NAACP lawsuit against pro-life group followed one against LDF
This week, the NAACP lost a trademark infringement lawsuit against a community organization which used the NAACP’s acronym in a parody to describe their support for abortion and Planned Parenthood.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lawsuit was filed after The Radiance Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about social issues from a Christian perspective and co-founded by Ryan Bomberger, published an article at the website LifeNews.com online entitled “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People” which criticized the NAACP’s stance on abortion.
Apparently, to the NAACP, using their acronym in political satire rises to the level of trademark infringement.
“This lawsuit should be shocking to any American who values truth and the First Amendment,” said Bomberger at the time the lawsuit was filed.
“The irony is painful. The NAACP is suing me—a black man—for exercising my Constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech.”
But, Bomberger did not stand alone in being on the receiving end of an NAACP trademark infringement lawsuit.
You might be interested to know, that the NAACP once sued their sister organization under the same claim of trademark infringement.
In 1985, The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., won a court case against the National Association for Colored People (NAACP) for trademark infringement, according to a Federal Court of Appeals. The case overruled the decision of a federal judge in 1983.
As they always say, follow the money and what the NAACP said the Defense Fund did was infringe on their fund-raising.
The United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit reversed a District Court decision and ruled that the two organizations, like quarreling family members, must continue to share the NAACP initials with which they were born. The suit was later dismissed.
Anyone see a pattern here?
Thankfully, in the Radiance Foundation case, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the NAACP did not have actionable claims for trademark infringement and Radiance’s use of the NAACP’s marks to criticize their abortion support falls squarely within the exceptions to trademark dilution specifically included in the Lanham Act to avoid encroaching on free speech rights.
“In the context of trademark infringement, the Lanham Act’s purpose, as noted, is to protect consumers from misleading uses of marks by competitors,” the decision states.
The decision also points out that a trademark “only gives the right to prohibit the use of it so far as to protect the owner’s good will against the sale of another’s product as his.”
NAACP had held that because Radiance had a donate button on their website they were using the image for goods and services.
But, the appeals court wrote, “When the “use of the trademark does not imply sponsorship or endorsement of the product because the mark is used only to describe the thing, rather than to identify its source,” restricting speech does not serve the purpose of the Lanham Act.
“Indeed, criticism or parody of a mark holder would be difficult indeed without using the mark. Trademark protections exist neither to allow companies to protect themselves from criticism nor to permit them to “control language.”