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The Radiance Foundation, Inc. v. NAACP

The Radiance Foundation published an article online entitled “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People” that criticized the NAACP’s stance on abortion. In response to a cease-and-desist letter from the NAACP, Radiance sought a declaratory judgment that it had not infringed any NAACP trademarks. The NAACP then filed counterclaims alleging trademark infringement and dilution.

The Lanham Act protects against consumer confusion about the source or sponsorship of goods or services. Persons may not misappropriate trademarks to the detriment of consumers or of the marks themselves. However, the Act’s reach is not unlimited. To find Lanham Act violations under these facts risks a different form of infringement -- that of Radiance’s expressive right to comment on social issues under the First Amendment. Courts have taken care to avoid Lanham Act interpretations that gratuitously court grave constitutional concerns, and we shall do so here. We hold that Radiance is not liable for trademark infringement or dilution of defendant’s marks by tarnishment. We vacate the injunction against Radiance entered by the district court and remand with instructions that defendant’s counterclaims likewise be dismissed.

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