The United Methodist Church’s finance agency has filed a lawsuit, alleging a vendor contracted to promote a program for giving has failed to pay the amount due and is now infringing on the denomination’s trademarks.
The general church agency filed the suit Friday, March 28, in the federal court in Nashville, Tenn.
The General Council on Finance and Administration’s lawsuit said the agency signed an agreement with Foundation Automation to market, provide a helpdesk and communicate with donors to UMCmarket. The online service, launched last year, allows United Methodists to shop online retailers such as Amazon with a percentage of the sale donated to a local church or United Methodist ministry of their choice.
What is not in dispute is that the money collected by the UMCmarket program so far has reached the designated United Methodist churches and ministries. As of March 2014, users who made purchases through the program have donated more than $54,000 to United Methodist churches and denominational entities, the lawsuit says.
Instead, the finance agency’s lawsuit contends that Foundation Automation has paid only $5,000 of $100,000 it owes to the finance agency as an “annual sponsorship fee” and a 10 percent royalty fee based on donations collected. The suit also says that the company is now squatting on the program’s Facebook page and the website UMCMarket.org.
In the meantime, the finance agency announced late April 2 that it has launched UMCmarket.net to continue the online giving program.
“We are confident that donations made through the old web address have reached or will reach their intended United Methodist church or organization, and that they will continue to receive their donations through participation in the enhanced UMCmarket.net system,” said Scott Brewer, an executive with the finance agency.
The UMCmarket.org currently says it is “down for maintenance” and “making necessary improvements.”
“This message to users is false,” the lawsuit says. Another company, Zebraplace, developed and hosts the platform on its servers. But, without the finance agency’s knowledge, Foundation Automation has registered in its own name the domain name “UMCmarket.org,” the suit says.
The finance agency “has been and continues to be damaged by Foundation Automation’s ongoing and unauthorized use of the UMCmarket.org domain name and ‘UMC’ and ‘UMCmarket’” trademarks, the lawsuit says.
The United Methodist News Service was unable to get a response from Foundation Automation, a limited liability company based in Boca Raton, Fla., that specialize in micro-donations. The company’s website is down, and the phone number listed is not in service.