Falwell Family Trust sues Liberty University over alleged trademark infringement

The lawsuit claims the university ‘exploited’ Dr. Jerry Falwell’s name, image, and trademark

Liberty University sign (WSLS 10)

LYNCHBURG, Va. – On Friday, Jerry Falwell Jr. announced the Falwell Family Trust is suing Liberty University over alleged unauthorized use of Dr. Jerry Falwell’s trademark, name and image.

After his passing in 2007, Dr. Falwell left his intellectual property to his children, of which Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a trustee and beneficiary.

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The lawsuit alleges that the university wrongfully “exploited” Dr. Falwell’s name and image, as well as the “Jerry Falwell” trademark, by use without permission and falsely associating the Jerry Falwell brand with the university.

“Liberty announced it is spending approximately $35 million of student tuition money on an ostentatious Disneyesque shrine, including an interactive hologram,” Falwell, Jr. said. “I asked the University to stop improperly using my father’s intellectual property and sent the University leadership a proposed license agreement that would cover the Jerry Falwell Center, assuming there was meaningful consultation with the family about the use of my father’s intellectual property. Unfortunately, they chose to continue using it without authorization, and in an undignified manner that seems to attempt to aggrandize and deify my father in a fawning way that he would never have wanted or approved. It really is the ‘Jerry First Center’ blatantly ignoring the fact that my father was known for producing millions of ‘Jesus First’ lapel pins free of charge for anyone to wear.”

According to the lawsuit, Liberty acknowledged the Trust’s ownership of the trademark, but continued to use it to “create confusion.”

The lawsuit alleges that a Jerry Falwell campaign uses Dr. Falwell’s name on the the upcoming Jerry Falwell Center, image and trademark in Liberty commercials and other advertising, uses his handwriting and signature in promotional materials, and casts of his footprints for a walking tour of the campus.

The lawsuit also claims Liberty University used Falwell intellectual property to “solicit donations and to sell naming rights” to rooms in the Jerry Falwell Center.

A spokesperson for Liberty University provided the following statement to 10 News.

“The university prefers not to comment on active litigation but some context is helpful, here. Dr. Jerry. Falwell, Sr. founded Liberty University in 1971. His 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. This lawsuit is in response to a specific request by Mr. Falwell, one trustee of the Falwell Family Trust, for the university to pay $7 million dollars for his permission to continue to use the name of Liberty’s founder for the next four years. Included in his demand is the expectation that, in effect, former president Falwell would also have total editorial control of Liberty’s use of the name of Liberty’s founder. The university declined the request; so, this lawsuit was filed by Mr. Falwell. 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.”

About the Author

Lauren Helkowski joined WSLS 10’s digital team in August 2022, but has held a passion for storytelling long before.

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