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Holy Copyright Claim! Virtual Desecration

"Virtual desecration" is what happens when new media and old religion collide in legal theory. The term comes from the Very Revd Rogers Govender, dean of The Church of England's Manchester diocese, in a letter republished earlier this week by the Times of London. The original letter was sent to Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and followed from the church's outrage over Sony's use of the interior of Manchester Cathedral for a shoot-em-up scene in the PS3 game "Resistance: Fall of Man." Wrote Revd Govender:

"We are currently seeking the advice of our lawyers in this matter and reserve our legal position in relation to the same however, as it is our fervent desire to find a mutually satisfactory conclusion to this matter, we ask Sony to email or write to us to arrange a meeting in the next few days so that the issues we have raised can be discussed."

You can see for yourself what the dean is upset about in this YouTube clip. Meanwhile, bloggers in the United Kingdom and in the United States are asking the question, "Just what legal standing does the church have?" At the U.K. intellectual property blog IMPACT, Freeth Cartwright partner Andrew Mills says that the church's most obvious claim would be for copyright. But it is unlikely that the church has any currently valid copyright in the cathedral's design, and, even if it did, it is unlikely Sony would be found to have violated it. "It seems to me that Sony were perfectly entitled to do this and did not need permission and the Church doesn't have any grounds for complaint," Mills concludes.

On this side of the pond, William Patry reaches much the same conclusion at The Patry Copyright Blog. "From what I have read so far, it appears doubtful there is a claim under UK law." Nor would the cathedral's design be protected under U.S. copyright law, Patry says, because it was constructed so long ago. Even if it were, U.S. copyright law permits pictorial representations of buildings "ordinarily visible from a public place."

Writing about all this yesterday at the Fortune blog Legal Pad, Roger Parloff suggests that the church may be tying its legal claim to the theory that Sony's artists  may have used copyrighted photos of the cathedral's interior. But he notes that neither Mills nor Patry believe that theory would hold water -- holy or not. So while the game may be desecration and while it is most certainly virtual, it appears not to be actionable.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 14, 2007 at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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