Methodist Church sues in dispute with online partner

UMC claims online marketer breached contract, is infringing on trademarks

The United Methodist Church wanted to make it easier for its members to give, but the firm it enlisted to help is just taking, according to a suit filed in federal court.

The General Council on Finance and Administration of the UMC is claiming that a company selected to create an online donations portal has breached its contract with the church and is now squatting on a domain name and using the UMC's name and logo illegally.

In 2012, the GCFA signed an agreement with Foundation Automation and Zebraplace to develop what would be called UMCMarket, through which Methodists would be able to donated to the church and its various arms while making purchases through online retailers such as Amazon. As part of the agreement, Foundation Automation was to pay the GCFA $100,000 on a payment schedule through the beginning of 2015 and Zebraplace would pay an annual royalty fee of 10 percent. In exchange, the companies would be recognized by the denomination as "Strategic Partners."

The web portal launched successfully in 2013 and Foundation Automation made its initial $5,000 payment; however, according to suit, it has made no subsequent payments. In February, the GCFA gave notice it was terminating the agreement.

Users who attempt to visit UMCMarket.org are told the site is down for maintenance, but the church alleges that is false. The platform itself — owned by Zebraplace — is functional and, according to the suit, access to the platform is being blocked by Foundation Automation, which owns the domain name.

The church says because it exercised its termination rights, it also terminated Foundation Automation's right to use certain trademarks — among them "UMC" and the church's cross and flame logo.

The church is seeking undisclosed damages and findings for breach, tortious interference, trademark infringement and dilution, violation of the Anticybersquatting Act and deceptive trade practices.