RICHMOND, Va. – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled Tuesday that a non-profit organization did not violate trademark infringement laws after posting an article online that parodied the name of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In October 2014, an ADF allied attorney filed an opening brief on behalf of The Radiance Foundation in a lawsuit against the NAACP after a federal district court ruled it engaged in trademark infringement.
“The First Amendment freedom to comment upon, and even parody, the positions, policies, and activities of groups like the NAACP has a very long history of protection,” said Charles M. Allen with the law firm Goodman, Allen, & Filetti and one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF. “The Radiance Foundation merely expressed its opinion of the NAACP’s abortion activism in an article. The NAACP cannot use trademark law to shield itself from criticism by denying others the right to use its name when they are expressing their opinions.”
“We are incredibly grateful to ADF and our attorney, Chuck Allen, for defending what the NAACP claims to protect: our most basic civil rights,” said Radiance Foundation Co-Founder Ryan Bomberger, an African-American citizen journalist and pro-life leader. “The 4th Circuit panel’s unanimous decision upholds our First Amendment freedom to criticize and parody the NAACP’s support of abortion.”
In January 2013, Radiance, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about social issues from a Christian perspective, posted an article on two of its websites critical of the NAACP’s position on abortion and its support of Planned Parenthood. After the article, “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People,” was posted, the NAACP received complaints about its position on abortion and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Radiance, threatening trademark infringement litigation if Radiance refused to comply with the NAACP’s demands.
“Radiance’s twist on the famous moniker follows in the same vein as articles that refer to the NRA as the ‘National Republican Association’ or the ACLU as the ‘Anti-Christian Lawyers Union,’” says the opinion in The Radiance Foundation v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The critical message conveyed by the satirical mark itself and in the commentary that follows ensures that no confusion about the source of the commentary will last, if in fact it is generated at all.”
“The First Amendment protects the freedom of all organizations, regardless of their political or religious views, to comment on the views of others,” added ADF Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden. “The 4th Circuit was right to reverse the district court’s flawed decision which discriminated against free speech.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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