By Greg Neyman
In November of 2011, a law firm representing Answers in Genesis contacted Answers In Creation (our former name), suggesting that we change our name in order to eliminate any confusion between the two websites. (Letter One, dated 3 November 2011). AiG complained that people who may be looking to donate to their ministry would be confused, and donate to AIC instead. Since our names are similar, they could make a case that OEM infringes on AIG's trademark.
What is a trademark? A trademark is a word, symbol, or phrase, used to identify a particular manufacturer or seller's products and distinguish them from the products of another. If a party owns the rights to a particular trademark, that party can sue subsequent parties for trademark infringement. The standard is "likelihood of confusion." To be more specific, the use of a trademark in connection with the sale of a good constitutes infringement if it is likely to cause consumer confusion as to the source of those goods or as to the sponsorship or approval of such goods.
Notice the phrase "the use of a trademark in connection with the sale of a good." What similar goods does AiG and Answers In Creation have in common? We both have homeschool curriculum. Old Earth Ministries derived money from curriculum in two ways. Most curriculum on AIC is free, and users have the option to make a donation to the website if they have found the curriculum useful. Second, the new Dinosaur Curriculum which went online in Fall 2011 was free, but offered a test kit for a fee. These curriculums are distinct from AiG's products, and are clearly marked as "old earth." To be on the safe side, to remove any possibility of infringement AIC stopped taking donations and selling the test kit. Since trademark law protects the maker of a product and the sale of goods, and we no longer sell anything, we cannot infringe a trademark.
This brings up an interesting point. AiG's clear interest in protecting their sales through trademark law is an indication that AiG operates more as a business than a ministry. Young earth creationism is big business, employing nearly 300 people in the United States, and when you combine all the young earth groups, they do nearly thirty million dollars in business each year.
A response was sent to the lawyer for Answers in Genesis. By eliminating all sources of income, including donations, Answers In Creation became 100 percent privately funded, and operated as a website providing critical analysis of YEC claims, which is within our First Amendment rights of free speech.
On 21 December, lawyers for AiG once again contacted us, again requesting that we change our name. (Letter Two). This new letter mentions that I offer "ministerial services" (counseling).
What is the driving force behind Answers in Genesis' motives? Since I removed all of the fundraising links, I am not taking any money away from Answers in Genesis (they make over 22 million per year, whereas AIC/OEM operates on a budget of $439 per year). So their motivation is not about money, but about censorship of views that are critical of their young earth message.
Our main message is that people need Jesus Christ, and that the length of creation is not important. Paul, when he was imprisoned, mentioned the preaching of Christ by others (Philippians 1). The motives were not pure for these other preachers, but Paul did not care. He said, "whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice." If Answers in Genesis were following Paul's example, they would rejoice that I am presenting the Gospel to people who do not believe the earth is young (Even more so, since my motives are pure).
Since ceasing donations, I have been tested by either AiG or their law firm, as people have offered donations in return for "ministerial services" (counseling). 'Tell me how to reconcile an old earth and Christianity, and I'll make a donation!' (paraphrased). It seems strange that a Christian ministry would get someone to misrepresent (lie) themselves in order to entrap me to accept a donation. This is not something I would expect from a Christian ministry that claims to follow the Bible. (If AiG had a legal case against me, why are they trying to fabricate evidence against me?)
If someone seeking the truth, and wishing to learn how they can become a Christian and believe in an old earth, asks me a question, it appears that Answers in Genesis considers this counseling. Am I to understand that if I am asked how to become a Christian, I cannot answer? That is a strange position, for a ministry to try and restrict another ministry from sharing the Gospel! Just to clarify again, a trademark protects a company in the sale of goods and services, and I have never charged for giving advice on how to become a Christian. I wonder if Answers in Genesis is considering charging people when they advise them on Christian matters. (Last time I checked, the Gospel is free to all men.)
Further evidence that Answers in Genesis is a business, and not a ministry, is found in the fact that they are ignoring Jesus' words about how to solve a dispute between two believers. Matthew 18:15 says that for disputes (sins) between Christians, the offended party is to go to him in private. We are not supposed to air our Christian disputes. Therefore AiG should have come to me directly, and not through a law firm.
Here are the facts as they stand:
1. We are a non-profit website, offering reviews of young earth claims.
2. The standard by which trademark infringement is judged is called "likelihood of confusion." Among other things, AiG would need to show evidence of confusion. Considering that I have over 1,000 emails from young earth believers, condemning me for my position, I can say that Answers in Genesis' followers are not confused at all (although it appears that Answers in Genesis is confused as to whether it is a ministry (operating on Biblical principles) or a business (operating by man-made laws).
4. Why not simply change the name and be done with it? Several reasons. First, the name is not causing any problems for AiG followers. Second, thousands of old earth creationists know about the site, and refer people to it. Third, there are thousands of links from other websites back to Old Earth Ministries. Changing a name will disrupt these links, causing them to be directed to a simple page, referring them to the new site. Webmasters of other sites, too numerous to contact, will have to change their links.
Finally, for Old Earth Ministries there is no benefit to changing the name. The only one who benefits from a name change is Answers in Genesis, who would love to see the links disrupted, making it harder for people to find critiques of their claims, and making Old Earth Ministries's Google and other search engine rankings plummet.
5. We have used this name for nine years (since January 2003).
When Answers In Genesis-USA took over and kicked the Australian contingent out of AiG (they eventually formed Creation Ministries International), AiG started a new print magazine, which is now known as Answers. When the magazine was first announced in early 2006, the title of the new magazine was Creation Answers. Realizing the title was too close to my website's title, the name was shortened to Answers before publication began. So we have come full circle...they used to be concerned about infringing on my name, and now they accuse me of being too close to their name. This also brings up another point. AiG has known about Answers In Creation since at least February 2006. Why wait more than five years to bring the issue up?
I informed Answers in Genesis that the name Answers In Creation would remain.
If Answers in Genesis wants to sue a mailman for pointing out their scientific and Biblical errors, they may do so. That should make for some interesting publicity for both our websites.
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