Litigation and the Mormon Church

A couple of months back grindael mentioned a trademark lawsuit that was brewing between the Mormon Church and a dating service called Mormon Match. The Church is claiming trademark infringement in Mormon Match’s use of the word “Mormon” and is seeking to force the dating service to change its name. Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (the holding corporation for the Church’s trademarks and copyrights, wholly owned and operated by the Mormon Church) has brought numerous claims against Jonathan Eller, the Mormon entrepreneur behind Mormon Match.

civil-litigationOn May 30, 2014 the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of Jonathan Eller. EFF describes itself as “a nonprofit civil liberties organization that has worked for more than 20 years to protect consumer interests, innovation, and free expression in the digital world.” EFF has interest in this case, arguing that the cost of defending this and similar frivolous lawsuits overpowers and stifles small businesses as well as “authors, filmmakers, cartoonists, songwriters, and other creators” who “feel pressured or succumb to meritless infringement claims.”

The amicus brief notes:

“Cases such as this one, where the affirmative defense of fair use is so clear from the outset, can and should be dismissed at the earliest possible stage of litigation. As this Court is aware, discovery can be expensive and time-consuming in trademark cases. In addition to the usual attorneys fees and costs, litigants must often hire experts to conduct and/or debunk large surveys identifying consumer confusion. These expenses quickly add up to eye-popping amounts. See, e.g., Mattel, Inc. v. Walking Mountain Prods., …(awarding defendant $1,584,089 in legal fees and $241,797 in costs). Such expenses can be enough to stifle a business in its infancy, no matter how meritorious the company’s legal position. Some start-up entrepreneurs will choose to play it safe by changing the content of their services, or not creating certain services at all, because they cannot afford to litigate their rights.”

Millions of dollars. When I learned how expensive this sort of litigation is, I wondered how Mormons feel about their church spending so much on something that seems like an eternally insignificant thing; perhaps members’ tithing money is being used to “stifle” and “pressure” a fellow Latter-day Saint who is just trying to provide a welcome service to his brothers and sisters in his faith. Is this the best way to use the Church’s funds, I wondered?

But while I was thinking about this, I came across a post on the Exploring Mormonism blog site titled, “Structure of the Corporation of The President / Bishopric (Actual LDS “Church”)” posted on 2 June. Looking at all the financial holdings of the Mormon Church made me realize that, though a million dollars would be impossible for my church (and many others) to spend on a frivolous lawsuit (indeed, such an expense would never even be considered), it is less than a drop in the bucket for the Mormon Church. Between the Church’s ownership of insurance companies, communications, utilities, investment companies, apartment buildings, ranches, farms, office complexes, tourist attractions, schools, and shopping malls, a million dollars (plus) for trademark litigation doesn’t seem like a big deal.

STanner2014But it is a big deal for Jonathan Eller, just like it was a big deal in 1999 when Intellectual Reserve, Inc. sued Utah Lighthouse Ministry and Jerald and Sandra Tanner for alleged copyright infringement. In the Tanner’s case, their Motion to Dismiss was refused by the court. Because of their limited resources they chose to settle out of court, disappointing many who believed a ruling on this “David and Goliath” case would set important precedent for the future of the internet.

Regarding the decision to settle, Sandra Tanner explained,

“This settlement by Utah Lighthouse Ministry is not an admission of wrongdoing or liability. This settlement is the means by which we can end this costly litigation and continue with our original goal and purpose: to provide critical research and information to the public on the LDS Church through our books, newsletters, and on our web site”

EFF also weighed in on the UTLM suit, stating,

“I’m sorry to hear that they settled, but I’m not surprised. In this case, I believe the Tanners were completely in the right. A link [the subject of the lawsuit] is simply a reference that points someone in the direction of where they can find information. But the trend we’re seeing now is that large corporations, like the LDS church, are using the club of litigation as a way of controlling speech. Copyright litigation is becoming one of the most effective ways of silencing critics.”

Rather than defending themselves against the Mormon “club of litigation,” the Tanners chose to use their resources to pursue their original goal and purpose; namely, the ministry to which they had been called.

Perhaps the Mormon Church, too, is using its resources to pursue its original purpose. But in that case the question must be asked: If spending millions of dollars wielding a “club of litigation” against friend and foe alike accomplishes that goal, what exactly is the Mormon Church’s purpose?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, LDS Church and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Litigation and the Mormon Church

  1. Kate says:

    Does the LDS church own the name Mormon? There are many sects of Mormonism tracing their roots back to Joseph Smith and his Mormons.

    I read a short article and thought I would share this:

    “Robert Schick, of Intellectual Reserve Inc., who represents the Mormon church’s trademarks, argued that the dating site has no official connection with the LDS and consequently, no claim to use its language or images.”

    It’s OK for the LDS church to highjack Christianity (having no official connection to Christianity) and freely use the language and images of Christianity but it’s not OK for a LDS member, a faithful Mormon, to use the language, images or heaven forbid, the nickname of the LDS?
    Can anyone say power and control????

  2. Kate says:

    Hmmmm…. I was just thinking, is the LDS church going to go after all businesses or sites with the name Mormon? What happens to FAIR, Mormon Stories, Mormon mommy blog, etc.? What happens to Mormon Coffee????? The point is, there are many, many sites not officially related to the LDS church that use the name Mormon.

    What about the sites/businesses that use LDS? Such as LDS singles?? It would be more logical for the LDS church to go after those, they are actually using the correct name of the church according to LDS leadership.

  3. falcon says:

    Excellent point. What about “Mormon Beer”? Well actually that wasn’t the name of the beer but it did have a catchy name and slogan.

    From the article:

    It’s 9 a.m. and Greg Schirf is drinking beer. Not just any beer. Schirf is downing Polygamy Porter.

    It’s a dark, rich brew that has become a runaway best seller here in the land of teetotaling Mormons. “Like I’ve always said,” Schirf explained, “you have to be creative if you’re going to survive in the beer business in Utah.”

    Schirf, the founder of Wasatch Brewery in Park City, created the beer — which features the slogan “Why Have Just One?” — in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

    He reasoned that a lot of people coming to Utah for the Games would be curious about Mormons — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and their previous practice of “plural marriages.” He also believed poking fun at polygamy might cause a stir that would result in lots of publicity. He was right.

    Booming Sales, Despite Blocked Ads

    Salt Lake City’s biggest billboard company refused to lease boards to Schirf. Dewey Reagan, who operates Reagan Outdoor, said that since polygamy is illegal, he was “offended by the message.”

    Others say Reagan did not want to lose bigger clients who “were the ones really offended by the campaign.”

    Although Schirf wasn’t able to advertise much, local newspaper and television stories created a bonanza of free publicity. His business boomed.

  4. Kate says:

    I remember that hahaha! Polygamy Porter. Why have just one? If I remember correctly, there’s a picture of a few women on the label. There’s also a coffee company here in Utah called Jack Mormon coffee.

    I guess the LDS church can be upset about the picture of the temple that Mormon Match is using, although the owners of the site claim they are providing a way for eternal companions to meet. That sort of makes the temple pic relevant. It seems to me that the church would be missing out on free publicity and maybe even more tithing $$$$ by having the site removed.

  5. MJP says:

    I’ve been to Wasatch Brewery and had a few pints of Polygamy Porter. Even bought a shirt a number of years ago. I was in Park City earlier this spring and there’s no slowing the beer down.

    As to the article, one does wonder the aim of such lawsuits by the likes of a church corporation/system. It really makes one think of the church more as a corporation whose image is more important to protect rather than as a religion wherein the aim is not image but rather truth.

  6. grindael says:

    Once again, the Church’s hypocrisy speaks for itself…

    The Political Motto of the Church of Latter-day Saints.

    The Constitution of our country formed by the Fathers of liberty. Peace and good order in society. Love to God, and good will to man. All good and wholesome laws, virtue and truth above all things, and aristarchy, live for ever! But woe to tyrants, mobs, aristocracy, anarchy, and toryism, and all those who invent or seek out unrighteous and Vexatious law suits, under the pretext and color of law, or office, either religious or political. Exalt the standard of Democracy! Down with that of priestcraft, and let all the people say Amen! that the blood of our fathers may not cry from the ground against us. Sacred is the memory of that blood which bought for us our liberty.

    (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 3, p.9)

    At the Trial of Oliver Cowdery, No. 1 on the list,

    Attest: EBENEZER ROBINSON, Clerk.

    Wednesday, April 11.—Elder Seymour Brunson preferred the following charges against Oliver Cowdery, to the High Council at Far West:1

    To the Bishop and Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I prefer the following charges against President Oliver Cowdery:

    “First—For persecuting the brethren by urging on vexatious law suits against them, and thus distressing the innocent.

    “Second—For seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith, Jun., by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery.

    “Third—For treating the Church with contempt by not attending meetings.

    “Fourth—For virtually denying the faith by declaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority or revelations whatever, in his temporal affairs.

    “Fifth—For selling his lands in Jackson county, contrary to the revelations.

    “Sixth—For writing and sending an insulting letter to President Thomas B. Marsh, while the latter was on the High Council, attending to the duties of his office as President of the Council, and by insulting the High Council with the contents of said letter.

    “Seventh—For leaving his calling to which God had appointed him by revelation, for the sake of filthy lucre, and turning to the practice of law.

    Eighth—For disgracing the Church by being connected in the bogus business, as common report says.

    “Ninth—For dishonestly retaining notes after they had been paid; and finally, for leaving and forsaking the cause of God, and returning to the beggarly elements of the world, and neglecting his high and holy calling, according to his profession.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 3, p.16)

  7. falcon says:

    The LDS church really missed the boat on this one. They should have come up with this website and screened the applicants. You know, holding a temple recommend etc. They could have charged a fee then a surtax if the couple got married. They could even have provided, for a fee of course, catering for the wedding.
    It was a revenue stream over looked; a potential cash cow.

    They’re probably just mad that they didn’t think of it!

  8. johnnyboy says:

    I thought the church said that they don’t want people to call members mormons? Then it becomes ok.. then its not again.. then they do “I’m a mormon” ads.

    Can they make up their minds already?

    I say we go back to the old days and start calling them mormonites.

  9. Mike R says:

    Mormon Match states that it is not endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
    Saints . That informs people enough I would think , yet they are being sued by the Church ?
    I’m sure the Mormon hierarchy has interest in protecting the image of the church they rule
    over but sicking a bevy of lawyers on people who might use the name ” Mormon” similar
    to how Mormon Match does seems heavy handed and a waste of a lot of money to me .

  10. falcon says:

    The potential for the LDS church to sue people is endless.
    Why didn’t they sue South Park for the episode about the Mormon family moving into the neighborhood.
    And think of the lawsuit they could have filed against the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”.

  11. Rick B says:

    Talk about Oxymoron, The LDS are claiming they dont have paid Clergy, so thats evidence they have the truth, we hear that all the time. Yet now they are suing everyone over dumb things, Yet the Bible in 1st Corinthians 6 tells us, Not to sue one another. So is this evidence they dont read the Bible, or believe the Bible? I would say so.

  12. falcon says:

    There’s a reason this religious corporation has so much money. They exist on volunteer labor, skim off 10% of the income of those they’ve convinced of the god-maker program, invest wisely in a diverse portfolio and yes, the boys at the top are rewarded very handsomely.
    Joseph Smith tried the socialism experiment and that didn’t work so he went whole hog into capitalism. That’s worked out very well.
    It was a matter of setting up a system where by those buying into the program are convinced that they have to have a temple recommend to become gods. The temple recommend costs the tithe.
    It’s all quite a racket!

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