'Mars Hill' Churches Resolve Copyright Conflict

A pair of churches each bearing the name "Mars Hill" have made amends after nearly beginning a legal battle over who possessed rights to the name.

Seattle's Mars Hill Church issued a cease and desist letter to Sacramento's Mars Hill Community Church last week, presenting the possibility of legal action over the moniker both ministries share. Social media backlash brought both parties to the bargaining table, and the two have since reached an agreement where Mars Hill Community Church will change its logo.

"I want to thank the Mars Hill Seattle staff for demonstrating a genuine brotherhood and passion for the kingdom of God," said Scott Hagan, Mars Hill Community Church's senior pastor, in a Sunday blog post titled "A Response from Pastor Scott Hagan, Mars Hill Community (Sacramento) to the 'Cease and Desist' Issued by Mars Hill (Seattle).”

"There is only forgiveness in every direction," he continued. "Hopefully we can find more common ground so we can do more common good for the cause of Christ in the next season."

The brief standoff drew scrutiny from Christians nationwide given its potential impact on church creation. The phrase "Mars Hill" is a popular one, given the apostle Paul delivered one of his most famous speeches at an ancient Greek site bearing the same name. Any church's attempt at enforcing such a trademark would thus set a new standard for how ministries brand themselves.

"We're not the only church called 'Mars Hill,' and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the 'Mars Hill' name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states," said Mars Hill Church in a Saturday blog titled "Clarification on some rumors that have been on some blogs."

"In hindsight, we realize now that the way we went about raising our concerns, while acceptable in the business world, is not the way we should deal with our fellow Christians."

Problems began when Mars Hill Church trademarked their name and logo last August. Encountering Sacramento's Mars Hill Community Church earlier this month, their legal team sent a cease and desist letter allowing two weeks for a logo change. Hasty blogging worsened the situation, with rumors spreading that the Seattle church wanted the Sacramento congregation to change its name. This was untrue, and both ministries now claim the event was an unfortunate misunderstanding.

The main problem was the California church’s logo, which was similar to the one the Seattle church had been using since 1996 – 10 years before Sacramento’s Mars Hill was first planted.

"We have not sent any similar letters to any other 'Mars Hill' churches, and we are not planning on asking any church with 'Mars Hill' in their name to change their name," said the Mars Hill Church blog.

"The issue of the cease and desist letter seemed to strike a raw nerve in the broader body of Christ," Hagan said. "We all know that social media is a powerful thing, and the plethora of posts, reposts and comments last Thursday proved that once again."

Danielle Shroyer, pastor of Dallas' Journey Church, said that the incident offered Christians a chance to reexamine the relationship between copyrights and Christ.

"Corporations have the goal of expanding their brand," she wrote in a Friday blog titled "Churches that Copyright are not Churches."

"Churches have the goal of expanding the kingdom. These things do not equal one another, and I would argue the former prohibits the function of the latter."

Mars Hill Church defended its actions, citing frequent plagiarism of its materials and content by other ministries.

"We've had churches cut and paste our logo, take our website code and copy it completely, had ministry leaders cut and paste documents of ours, put their name on them to then post online as if it were their content and even seen other pastors fired for preaching our sermons verbatim," the church's blog noted.

Hagan said he respected the Seattle church's concerns and that the two churches would cooperate rather than compete in the future.

"Mars Hill Seattle is positioned for unprecedented influence," he said. "I pray its future is bright. So in the end there is no lawsuit … better yet … there is no feud. Yes, all is well."

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