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A Christian ministry trademarked the phrase "Worship Leader," creating mass chaos
Confusion surrounding the trademark led to a popular Facebook page getting shut down
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The story that made the rounds yesterday is that a Christian ministry trademarked the commonly used Christian phrase in 2015 and they recently got at least one Facebook page shut down for using those words. Given the term’s popularity, many more may be within the ministry’s targets.
Scot Leonard, a.k.a. “Rogue Worship Leader,” posted an Instagram video on Friday explaining how a ministry called Authentic Media (which oversees a brand called “Worship Leader”) got his Facebook page taken down because he was allegedly using their trademark.
“The company Worship Leader is essentially reporting me for violating trademark laws because I have the term, ‘worship leader,’ in my name,” he said in an Instagram video posted Thursday. “How crazy is that? This is a common term. This is a job title. It’s a term that has been used by churches, thousands of churches all over the world.”
Indeed, if you go to the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, you can see that the phrase is trademarked... but only in some specific cases. It applies to electronic content released by the company, books and magazines they produce, the name of their online retail store, and their online “library services.”
The two words themselves? Not trademarked.
That means churches can keep using the phrase as long as there’s no confusion between the way they’re using it and the ministry in question. And why would there be? I’d bet good money that most Christians have never heard of this ministry, much less their claim to fame.
The ministry isn’t helping matters, though, when they say things on their website like “We literally coined the phrase ‘Worship Leader.’” (That’s not true. The phrase was apparently used multiple times before this ministry began.)
Nor does it help when the ministry has an entire page on their website explaining why they go after other people for using the phrase. (The post, written in 2022, was quickly deleted on Friday. But the Internet Archive sees all.)
… owning and managing our trademark is part of stewarding the mission that God has laid on our business, and we take that very seriously.
A lot of new businesses just don’t understand how trademark law works and our goal is to quickly identify when a new business has violated any of our trademarks and notify them so they don’t get too far along in their business before realizing that they need to change their name. Often times we get busy on other projects and it takes us a while to notify a business of their trademark infringement. Most recently, with the passing of our founder and the new partnership that we formed, we’ve been a bit behind, but we’re now getting caught up and plan to continue to defend our trademark, as we have for decades.
It led to a lot of (well-deserved) bad press on Friday, including from Christian media outlets like RELEVANT and Church Leaders. But after the news began to spread that a Christian ministry was going after other Christians for using a widely known Christian phrase, the ministry backtracked.
“This all revolves around an issue with one account that we felt was impersonating us,” he wrote. “Regarding the rumors that we are going around reporting accounts; it’s not true. We sent one report to Facebook regarding this individual account. This is where the fumble happened. We provided supporting links to other accounts and just messed up in doing that because Facebook took that and delisted 6 additional accounts.
“We have reached out to them and asked them to reverse what they did,” he continued. “But that is the only action we’ve taken and will not take action against other accounts. There is no pending legal action of any kind on any side of this.“
That explanation makes a little more sense. They’re not going after anyone who uses the phrase, just people they believe are trying to capitalize on the ministry’s reputation.
It’s not clear, though, why they felt Leonard was impersonating them. What was he doing that made them think he was trying to rip them off? An explanation would be useful.
Without it, it seems like the ministry was trigger happy and failed to inject any common sense into the situation. Instead of resolving a simple matter by reaching out to the person behind the Facebook page, now everyone is trying to ask a soulless social media company to rectify everything when it’s notorious for only ever making things worse.
Worship Leader co-founder Stephanie Fromm also reacted to the controversy yesterday… but she took a very different approach from the more apologetic Swanson. Fromm defended the trademark before suggesting it was the Instagram guy who was the aggressor here:
Worship Leader means so much more to us than just a trademark, it’s our calling! We welcome anyone who wants to align with us in ministry, but don’t take our logo, our name, our identity, or our decades of built integrity and make a business that looks and acts like us. People can trust what is represented by our logo to be part of our integrity. Our Father in heaven has so much more creativity in his little pinky,—why not lean in and allow your own talents and gifts to create your own unique name?
FYI: we have always tried to address anyone who has assumed to use our trademark with resolution. This particular individual we’re dealing with has not been willing to sit down with us and his pastor instead he chose to have an attorney.
If an outside group got my Facebook page shut down because of a false belief that I was impersonating them, I’d talk to a lawyer too. It was Worship Leader’s responsibility to reach out first before filing a complaint with Facebook. Just a complete lack of self-awareness on the part of the ministry.
Fromm posted a slightly altered, and much more defensive, message on Facebook. She said a different company set them off, not the Instagram guy, but the Instagram guy got caught in the crossfire, and can’t JESUS we JESUS all JESUS just JESUS get JESUS along? Some of the screenshots are below:
The ministry can’t seem to comprehend how a phrase they date back to 1992 was around long before then and that they have no clue when to complain about legitimate infringement and when to just let things slide. (The comments on that Facebook thread are 🔥🔥🔥.)
Given all the confusion, it’s not a bad idea.