The Billion Dollar Industry of Illegal Trademark Rip-Offs by Christian Retailers

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Years and years ago, as a gag, some friend of this writer’s signed us up for the American Tract Society‘s newsletter. For some reason, we’ve never decided to unsubscribe, largely because it’s fun to browse through the booklets borrowing from popular films or other pop-culture offerings of the day. If Avatar turns out to be a phenomenon, you bet there’s going to be some new booklet published by ATS with the films’ logo slightly altered and a message about personal salvation thrown in there somewhere. What we’ve always found interesting is that we’re 90% sure none of this is in any way authorized, despite the giant, full-color photos and other direct links to the original cultural product. We’re ready to move that estimate up to “100% sure” after reading Jay ReevesAP story about the giant, multi-billion dollar industry surrounding these Christian pop-culture knock-offs. You’ve likely seen these either out in public or online, essentially the same thing as what ATS is doing, just with t-shirts, stickers, and anything else that can be de-secularized, but retain a familiar design (e.g., Guitar Hero becomes God Is My Hero, Apple’s iPod becomes iPray, etc.). But in a world as litigious as it is, how do these knock-offs survive? Simple:

Many such goods are illegal, trademark attorneys say, but companies often are unaware their names are being copied or don’t put up a fight for fear of being labeled anti-faith.

Fortunately in the story, there are a few companies, like Coca-Cola, who have stood up for themselves in protecting their trademarks. And a handful of Christian groups have labeled them “Jesus Junk” and find the whole thing tacky, so there’s some hope there.