Church on the wrong track in suing Sony over war-game, says lawyer

By staff writers
June 13, 2007
Manchester Cathedral

The Church of England is facing an "uphill battle" if it chooses to pursue legal action against Sony over its use of images of Manchester Cathedral in the game 'Resistance: Fall of Man', says a lawyer quoted in the latest issue of specialist magazine The Escapist.

The Church and the Cathedral authorities are demanding an apology from the Sony Corporation, and a "substantial donation", which it says it will use a portion of to combat gun crime in the local area.

But The Escapist, a weekly which “covers gaming and gamer culture with a progressive editorial style, with articles and columns by the top writers in and outside of the industry”, reports a game and copyright lawyer as saying that their case looks thin.

According to Alex Chapman of Campbell Hooper Solicitors, there is a provision in the United Kingdom's 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act which states that representing certain artistic works that are on public display, including buildings and sculptures which are "permanently situated in a public place or in premises open to the public," is not a copyright infringement.

"Therefore, the inclusion of the Cathedral in the game could not be considered to be an infringement of any copyright on it," Chapman declared, adding that since copyright on a work expires 70 years after the death of its creator, it is also very unlikely that the Cathedral has any copyright remaining on it at all.

He explained to The Escapist's Andy Chalk: “Pubic buildings are generally fair game for inclusion in videogames, films, etc., and it is something that their owners just have to accept."

This is not the first time a major church building has complained about such inclusion. A year ago Canterbury Cathedral Koch Media to withdraw their War on Terror game, which uses the building as one of its backdrops. The case was subsequently dropped.

A twist on the legal situation is that the Church might find a basis for legal action if the Cathedral was presented in a defamatory fashion, or if it became so closely associated with the product or company that its presence could be misconstrued as an endorsement, claims Chalk.

But he adds that lawyer Alex Chapman believes both possibilities unlikely. Chapman commented: "There is no law against insensitivity and as with many matters of this kind, it is the public reaction that might be more damaging than the legal one."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia said today that the Cathedral and the Church would be best to seek to pursue the issue in a different way.

He commented: “When Canterbury Cathedral complained about featuring in a war-game last year, we wrote to the Dean and chapter suggesting that they should use it as an opportunity to promote a positive message about peace-building and reconciliation, rather than getting into an unseemly and probably unwinnable legal case. Similar principles apply in this situation.”

Barrow added: “Using the publicity to focus on tackling gun crime is a positive move. Similarly, the Cathedral could ‘rebrand’ its public space by mounting an exhibition on initiatives in global non-violence. There is also an opportunity for the Church to reconsider its own image - Cathedrals are stuffed full of military images, so they cannot claim that being associated with war and violence is entirely alien – though arguably it should be.”

Ekklesia has been involved in promoting non-violence, conflict transformation, peace-building and reconciliation in situations of conflict and injustice. It has worked with groups such as Christian Peacemaker Teams and Bridge Builders in the UK.

The Escapist is available online, via PDF, and through RSS for broad syndication.

[Also on Ekklesia: Canterbury Cathedral invited to turn tables on war games (29/05/06); Canterbury Cathedral urged to turn wargame row into peace pledge 26/05/06; Religion not solely to blame for global conflict, says WCC chief (08/07/07); Briefing on media accusations against Christian Peacemaker Teams; How Easter brings regime change - Simon Barrow says the Gospel means an end to the politics of death; Plea for armed forces chaplains likely to be rejected 26/05/06; Mennonites and Catholics seek to cooperate on peacemaking; Blair challenged by Christian peacemakers; Jesus' commitment to nonviolence highlighted at St Peter's; Churches urged to consider more radical peacemaking following Iraq hostage crisis; Archive of comment and features on Christian Peacemaking; Movement celebrates 60 years of peacemaking; Peacemaking for Churches by Yvonne Joan Craig (book); Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peacemaking; (book); From the Ground Up: Mennnonite Contributions to International Peacemaking (book); Christians join global war resisters gathering in the USA; [PDF] Becoming a Peace Church File Format - Adobe Acrobat]

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