Cleveland-based church denomination sues movie producers
CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) -- you can spot a McDonalds miles away by its golden arches. Wendy's, by its pig-tailed red-haired girl in gingham.
But how many Bradley Countians would know the trademarked and copyrighted logo for the Church of God International; a 125-years-old fundamentalist Protestant denomination based in Cleveland?
"I actually do not," Donna Baggett says.
"I know what the Methodist logo looks like," Shawna Sandlan laughs.
Based on a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, the denomination claims that Mandalay Pictures LLC, IFC in Theaters LLC, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Inc, and Comcast Corporation knew full well what its Cross Mark was, but violated federal and state copyright, trademark and consumer protection laws in its making of 'Salvation Boulevard,' released last year.
The movie's all-star cast includes Pierce Brosnan, Ed Harris, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Connelly, and Greg Kinnear in a comedy "set in the world of mega-churches in which a former Deadhead-turned-born again-Christian finds himself on the run from fundamentalist members of his mega-church who will do anything to protect their larger-than-life pastor."
'Salvation Boulevard' congregation is the purely-fictional Church of the Third Millennium, whose 'Cross Mark', the suit asserts, is a 'mirror image' of the Church of God's.
"Since at least as early as June 1, 1986, Church of God has been and is now using (the design)...as a mark to identify the source of its activities and any and all services and products," the suit reads.
The suit further claims that 'Salvation Boulevard' producers, distributors and exhibitors have caused 'irreparable harm, damage and injury' by using the Cross Mark in such a way that it 'falsely represents and deceives the purchasing public.'
"If it is the church's property, if they have a right to it, then, it's kind of the American Way, I guess, to sue," Baggett says.
Citing the pending litigation, officials with the Church of God and the defendants' own attorneys have declined comment to Eyewitness News.
But the Church of God's communications director, the Rev. Scott Carter, says the issue isn't so much how Salvation Boulevard portrays members of its congregation; but how others might, if the Church of God doesn't challenge it now.
The Church of God is seeking 'treble damages;' three times the profits or losses that the defendants earned or incurred with the limited release of 'Salvation Boulevard.'
The web site boxofficemojo.com indicates the production costs were $5.5 million, but the film has earned only $28, 468 in six weeks of release on only four screens last summer. 'Salvation Boulevard's run ended shortly after the Church of God filed suit.
Baggett and Sandlan aren't members of the Church of God. They question why a religious organization would seek money in court.
"It's not hurting the church, so they probably should just leave it alone," Baggett says.
"God would not like it," Sandlan says. "It's just not right."
The lawsuit asserts the issue is not about dollars, but in forcing all involved with 'Salvation Boulevard' to cease and desist.
Lawyers for both sides had scheduled a pre-trial conference for Friday, in federal court in Chattanooga. That conference has been rescheduled for next month.