Monday, April 30, 2007

Weird Copyright Issue

A Salt Lake-area coffee house (!) has recently caught some flak for their T-shirts making fun of the LDS (Mormon) church, which doesn't allow its followers to have coffee. The shirts originally had coffee being poured into Moroni's trumpet, but the coffeeshop had to stop selling them when the church sued for copyright infringement.

The shop now has a new design, but the original case raises an interesting question - can a church copyright its religious iconography? Can I get in trouble with the Diocese of Raleigh for making fun of the Virgin Mary? To me, this seems a church that can't take a joke setting a really dangerous precedent. Copyright law experts - any ideas?

(Via Jacob. Incidentally, I like your wakefulness-transferring idea - maybe since I don't like coffee, I can ask Danielle to drink a couple of extra cuppas and I can get the buzz from it.)


Barzelay said...

Note that copyright protection expires. The fact that theirs hasn't should merely serve to point out how new and ridiculous the LDS church and their beliefs are. But, if they wanted to re-draw their own depiction of Moroni (which could probably be pretty close the church's), they wouldn't run afoul of copyright. They still might have trademark problems (and trademarks, in theory, never expire).

Matthew B. Novak said...

I don't really remember my copyright all that well, but doesn't this raise serious free-speech issues ala parody? Could be the coffee shop just backed down because it was cheaper and easier?

Pierce said...

Couple of things. First: you, jacob, and boingboing all link to the same Salt Lake Tribune article, which doesn't say that the church threatened legal action. It just says they "asked." Am I missing a source here?

Second: this would be a case of potential trademark infringement, not copyright. This is notable because trademark protections typically only apply within the owners' specific "market," which I guess in this case would be religion. So if the catholics started using the image of Moroni's trumpet, there might be a legal problem. But the coffee shop should be able to use it with impunity, particularly for the purposes of parody. So even if there was a threat of a lawsuit, they would almost certainly have won if they saw it through to the end.

Third: as far as parody goes, this seems pretty lame. Doesn't really affect the legal issues, I just thought I'd note it. :)

Jeff said...

Pierce: Here's an article more specifically dealing with the trademark issue.

Y'all are right - it's a trademark issue, not a copyright issue. My mistake.