There have been numerous posts around the blogosphere about the NFL’s annual witch hunt for IP infringers (LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION’s Ron Coleman has a particularly good ones) who either (a) use the words “Super Bowl” in connection with a good, service or promotion, or (b) attempt to display the Super Bowl game itself on a television larger than 55 inches, or charge for admission to a “Super Bowl” viewing.
Well, the NFL may be able to sue bars for putting the game on too big of a screen, or threaten injunctions against retailers who want to say something like “your Super Bowl party snack headquarters”, but it gets stopped in its tracks when it goes after God. From this report from OneNewsNow (a division of the “American Family News Network”):
Churches can show the Super Bowl on big-screen TVs without fear of violating copyright laws.
In 2007, many churches cancelled Super Bowl parties after the National Football League (NFL) warned an Indiana church that it would be illegal to show the game on anything larger than a 55-inch screen. But members of Congress threatened to change copyright laws, and the NFL dropped the restriction beginning with this year’s Super Bowl.
“These organizations may show the game on any monitor, and we only ask these organizations to not charge admission — the game’s on free TV — and to hold the party at a location they usually use for other large gatherings,” [an NFL spokesperson] explains. According to the guidelines agreed to, churches may take up a donation to defray the cost of the event, if they desire.
That’s right, at least according to this report, members of Congress threatened to change copyright law to allow churches to show the Super Bowl on big screen TVs. Because nothing says America like football and God, together under one roof.
Now, I’m all for churches showing the Super Bowl. In fact, I belonged to a church that had a “SOUPER Bowl” party (a soup and sandwich potluck before the game started), and even though the broadcasting of the game was not part of the itinerary, I’m sure some people stayed at the church, and maybe even brought out the projection TV to show the game on a wall in the fellowship hall. But why can’t the Fraternal order of Eagles do it? If anyone says that our country is secular, just look at the decision the otherwise IP-stodgy NFL has made here.
Further, why can’t my wife’s evite for our party have the words “Super Bowl” on the graphic, or even the Super Bowl logo? It’s certainly a descriptive fair use (most likely a “traditional” fair use, although the “nominative” fair use exceptions may also apply) to describe the purpose for our events. Perhaps Ron Coleman put it best:
It’s the overselling that’s offensive, because of course the NFL has a trademark right to SUPER BOWL. But like all IP owners, the league has set up a campaign not only to protect its legitimate rights but a buffer of illegimate intimidation-based quasi-rights around the real thing.
This buffer zone not only establishes a zone of litigation-based (not legal-based, litigation-based) early warning triggers around the real rights, such that any would-be infringer on the trademark would have to traverse the hopelessly expensive no-man’s land of illegitimate litigation threats. It also has an even more insidious effect of actually causing an expansion of the original right itself. It does this by actually enhancing the perceived “untouchability” of the real trademark, i.e., its isolation in the market, cinching the future results of consumer surveys and other indices (including, of course, the claim that mark holder “vigorously enforces” its rights) that could be used in a future trademark infringement or dilution claim. This is a privilege Congress, but far more so the judiciary, the latter of which almost never enforces the extant, if weak, fee-shifting provisions of the Lanham Act, have reserved exclusively to wealthy trademark owners.
So when you go to watch The Big Game this Sunday, at your church, at your home or at a purveyor of libations, please, take a moment, and enjoy the spectacle of intellectual property rights that abound.
… Oh, and call it the Super Bowl, just once. But maybe think twice before watching it on Frank’s 2000-inch TV.