July 19, 2011 12:44pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Church Sues to Block Sundance Hit ‘Salvation Boulevard’
A chain of evangelical Christian mega-churches is attempting to halt the film, Salvation Boulevard, which played at Sundance this year and has just been released theatrically.
The subject of the film has the potential to generate some controversy -- it mixes politics and religion. So too does the lawsuit from the Church of God -- the plaintiff claims to have copyrighted a design based on the Christian cross symbol and intends to stop it from being shown in the film.
Salvation Boulevard sports a stellar cast (Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Marisa Tomei and Ed Harris) and tells the story of a former Deadhead married to a devout wife who discovers their mega-church's pastor has committed a sinful act that will be protected at all costs. The film, produced by Mandalay Vision, was snapped up by IFC/Sony for $1.5 million after getting some laughs at Sundance this year.
The satire may not be going over too well with the evangelical community.
The Church of God, a Tennessee-based organization that runs a number of mega-churches throughout the United States, has filed a lawsuit against Mandalay, IFC, Sony, and Comcast for distributing a feature film that shows a design alleged to be legally protected. Here's the design and how it's being used:
The Church of God says in a lawsuit filed on Thursday in Tennessee federal court that use of the Cross Mark by the defendants constitutes willful and deliberate commercial infringement upon its exclusive rights. The church is asking for an injunction and further monetary damages.
Nobody at the Church was available to take questions whether the lawsuit is intended to punish a violation of the commandment, "Thou Shall Not Steal," or whether intellectual property is being used as a pretense to stop a film that paints mega-churches in a somewhat unflattering light. Since many churches use derivatives of the famous Christian cross symbol, we find it questionable whether a geometrically and historically-common design meets the threshold of "originality" for purposes of valid copyright registration.
The Church is also suing for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and violations of Tennessee's consumer protection act. The matter now goes before a higher authority -- a Tennessee judge --- whose feelings on the intersection between intellectual property and religion may be tough to predict.