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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taking Out a Copyright on God

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Want to buy a monk's soul?

For just 130 rubles such a seemingly diabolical deed can be carried out at a neighborhood kiosk by buying a bottle of semisweet wine called Soul of a Monk. "Feel the mystery of ancient monasteries," promises the slogan on the label of the Moldovan wine, bottled by St. Petersburg-based Imperial VIN.

On the same shelf, a thirsty shopper can also find spiritual enlightenment in cheaper wines like Monastery Meal, Baby's Baptism, Madonna With Child and Theological from the Moscow Wine and Brandy Factory KiN. And then there is also Monk's Whisper, Monk's Spell and Nun's Tear.

A wine connoisseur will know better than to mix the wine with Monastery Hut vodka or Bochkaryov Easter beer. But he may agree that a Pentecost candy from the Babayevsky chocolate factory is a nice snack, especially if he's raking in cash hand over fist at the Yaroslavl-based Apostle brokerage.

Such an abundance of religious-oriented trademarks has the Russian Orthodox Church worried. So much so, in fact, that church leaders have hammered out a deal with the government agency in charge of trademarks to censor potentially offensive names.

Patriarch Alexy II and Rospatent head Alexander Korchagin agreed late last year to work together when any question arises about the appropriateness of a petitioned trademark, Rospatent said Friday. The church's advice could also be used to ban existing brands.

"If the Rospatent expert has a question, he can turn to the [Moscow] Patriarchate and ask for its opinion as the main source of the truth," said Robert Voskanyan, assistant to Korchagin.

"If the Patriarchate says that an image is bad or that it offends the feelings of believers, the application should be rejected.

"We could argue for a long time over what is holy and what is unholy, but the church knows. What is most important is that a trademark that raises doubts gets the blessing of the Patriarchate."

He refused to say who came up with the idea for the partnership: "I would say diplomatically that both sides were ready for this."

The legal basis for the arrangement rests on a trademark law that forbids the use of names "contradicting public interests, principles of humanism and morality."

About a dozen trademark applications to register images of saints and churches have already been denied under the church's advice, the Vedomosti daily reported.

It was not clear Friday what procedure the church is following in reviewing queries from Rospatent, nor who was charged with issuing the expert opinion.

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who is in charge of relations with public and political bodies at the department of external church relations, said he was not aware of the issue. Other church officials could not be reached for comment.

Trademark experts warned that the procedure is what really matters.

"The point in question is the implementation of the law — how far will it [the church's role] go," said Lev Komarov, president of the Russian Association of Trademark Holders.

He said Rospatent and the church should develop some straightforward criteria to decide trademarks and write them down.

"I don't see anything horrible in this as long as everything is done reasonably and the interests of all parties involved are taken into account," he said.

Peter Necarsulmer, president of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights, expressed stronger concerns, saying that trademark decisions should be decided solely by Rospatent.

"The real danger is when this kind of agreement is applied on an arbitrary basis," said Necarsulmer.

"To the degree that it is a good idea, it should be implemented through a normal legislative and regulatory process. Ultimately, it cannot be the church or any private individuals who would be deciding, but the decision has to be the responsibility of Rospatent."

Necarsulmer added: "Many of the trademarks and labels, which have elements of religious semantics, have a much wider definition in public understanding than a purely religious one."

Bravo International, which sells beers called Easter and Christmas, agrees.

"Christmas is first of all a family holiday," Bravo marketing director Dmitry Sitnikov told Vedomosti.

Other experts say there may well be a conflict in interests with the Orthodox Church being allowed to have a say in trademarks. The Kostroma diocese, for example, owns a share in the well-known Saint Springs bottled water.

But there is no question that offensive trademarks are on the market and steps need to be taken to address the issue, said Archpriest Maxim Kozlov, dean of the Moscow State University's St. Tatiana Chapel.

"The church must be able to give its consent for depicting church symbols on labels," Kozlov said, pointing to Kristall's Old Moscow vodka depicting the Kremlin's Dormition Cathedral on its label as a product that he found personally offensive.

"Moscow State University put a copyright on the image of its main building. The same rule should apply to churches," he said. "Putting an icon on a candy wrapping, even with most positive inclinations, is unacceptable."

He added that other labels he found offensive included the Soul of a Monk from Imperial VIN.

However, Imperial VIN insisted it was not being sacrilegious.

"I don't think we offend religious feelings at all," representative Andrei Kolesnikov said by telephone from St. Petersburg.

"What we meant is that we put our soul into this wine."