October 03, 2006

Christian Science and Copyright

by PG

Jumping off the Volokh discussion, Will Baude is "baffled by this chart from the VA's website, which lists all of the available emblems except the symbol of the scientologists and the 'MUSLIM (Islamic 5 Pointed Star),' which it claims it does not show 'because of copyrights.'"

I think the VA is referring to the Druze star, but that's shown (on Wikipedia, at least, in a picture) which presumably the alleged copyright holder would have stopped by now. Of course, there are also the Baha'i, but that makes even less sense.
At any rate, even if this mysterious symbol has been copyrighted recently, and the term has not expired, and it would not be fair use for the federal government to provide a sample of the symbol to grieving families picking a tombstone, I sort of wonder why the government can't just amend the Tucker Act, infringe anyway, and be done with it.
First, Christian Scientists are the group whose symbol (Cross & Crown) is "Not shown because of copyrights," and they are quite distinct from Scientologists in a number of respects. While the Scientologists reportedly do not believe that therapy for the mind is useful, the Christian Scientists use only therapy for the mind, in the form of prayer, to heal their sick, though problems regarded as mechanical, such as broken bones, can receive medical intervention. Also, Christian Science is more clearly recognized as a religion by the U.S. government than Scientology is; the latter lost tax-exempt status in 1967, and regained it in 1993 in a questionable fashion. The German government regards Scientology as a commercial enterprise.

Second, Wikipedia has many copyrighted images. To take an example famous within the field, Mickey Mouse's entry includes not a mere hand-drawn picture that would violate trademark, but a film poster and movie stills. Disney probably wouldn't sue the U.S. government for putting Mickey's image on a website, but it would be more for fear of bad publicity than certainty that the company would lose under fair use doctrine.

Similarly, the Cross and Crown symbol of Christian Science is trademarked, and this protection is defended as being necessary to ensure that there is no confusion about whether an item is a product of Mary Baker Eddy's church. "The trademark used on books and periodicals is a Cross and Crown seal. The appearance of this seal identifies literature published by The Christian Science Publishing Society." Presumably the Christian Scientists do not want their symbol on a government website, for fear that it will be seen as some sort of endorsement by the Publishing Society.

With regard to the "Islamic 5 Pointed Star," I'm less clear on whether it actually is trademarked and what the reasons thereof would be, though there has been an attempt to patent a "star and crescent structure."

October 3, 2006 10:10 PM | TrackBack

I'm baffled as well. I can't see either trademark or copyright protection for those symbols.

On the trademark front the "holders" of the mark (except for maybe groups like scientology) aren't using the marks in commerce. Neither is the government when it marks a gravestone (or on the website).

I don't see that the logos would be entitled to copyright protection in the first place, but the govt.'s use is surely covered under fair use.

Posted by: BTD_Venkat at October 4, 2006 11:18 AM
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