Thou shalt not use my dad’s image in vain.
Former-Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who resigned in 2020 amid a sex scandal, has filed a trademark infringement suit against the Christian college claiming it has been using the image of the school’s founder, his late father, without permission.
The suit, filed in federal court in Virginia, is the latest salvo in an ongoing-legal battle between the younger Falwell and the university since he was pushed out following allegations involving his wife and a Miami pool boy that scandalized the private, evangelical institution.
Earlier this year, Falwell, who had run the Virginia-based university since his father’s death in 2007 until 2020, filed a suit against the school claiming they owed him $8.5 million in retirement benefits. He had previously filed defamation and breach of contract suits against the university. The school has similarly filed a breach of contract and fiduciary suit against Falwell.
The most recent suit alleges that the school has pressed forward since Falwell’s removal with plans to build a $35 million Jerry Falwell Center in homage to his father, who founded the school in 1971.
Plans for the building include an engraving of the elder Falwell’s signature at the entrance, a hologram tour featuring his likeness and quotes from him emblazoned on the walls.
The younger Falwell says that a trust controlled by him and his siblings holds the trademark to his father’s name, intellectual property and likeness, but that the school has continued to use them without the family’s permission.
Calling it “an ostentatious Disney-esque shrine,” the younger Falwell accused the school of ignoring the family’s request to enter into a licensing agreement.
“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,” he said in a statement. “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.”
A spokesman for Liberty University said in a statement that the school is “confident it will ultimately prevail in this case and will be able to maintain its use of the name of its founder.”
“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,” the spokesman said. “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.”