Nobody's going to sneak up on the Rev. Jerry Falwell again. Burned by seeing an interview with him appear in Penthouse magazine recently, Falwell took steps to thwart any such surprise in the future.

Now reporters and photographers seeking an audience with Moral Majority chief Falwell are required to sign an agreement stipulating that he has a "common law copyright on the words, phrases or images" he used in interviews. And that means the journalist may not offer any part of the interview with Falwell to any publication except the one agreed upon in advance with Falwell. Penalty for violation: compensatory damage to Falwell and reasonable attorney fees as determined by a Virginia court.

One Washington copyright attorney says the agreement seems "more of a contract matter than a straight First Amendment or copyright matter . . . If someone wants to agree to those terms before getting into talking with Falwell, I don't know if Falwell could enforce it all the way. But he'd have a good start."

This may not enhance Falwell's image among reporters, some of whom have dubbed him "Ayatollah Falwell" much to the Lynchburg minister's consternation. But Falwell's public relations office says so far no journalists have balked at signing the agreement.