Last week’s social media kerfluffle came courtesy of the bizarre actions of the aged rag Worship Leader Magazine. Back in the day this publication had real clout – every church I knew subscribed to it and got their monthly “Song Discovery” CD featuring the latest hot worship songs (I almost got one of my more popular worship songs called “Every Day” on it but alas, they didn’t like the tempo for some odd reason and wouldn’t include it unless I re-recorded it.)
Evidentaly Worship Leader Magazine (or more specifically, their parent company called “Authentic Media”) has been pulling this trick for literally years: they’ve trademarked the term “worship leader” and have taken action against people/compaines with those two words in the title.
I know, it sounds ridiculous but it’s a thing and they’ve been getting away with it. But that’s one of the (few) plusses of social media – in this day and age you can’t get away with it.
You can read more details about their shenanigans in Christianity Today’s article. Of course, any company has a right to defend their trademark and should. However in this case, their justifications smack of entitlement. This isn’t really about the money – Worship Leader Magazine is shutting down social media accounts (are they upset that Rogue Worship Leader is making a few bucks on merch?)
Worship Leader Magazine’s Facebook page is getting flamed as well it should (the comments are gold) and they’ve been removing posts and articles that defend themselves nearly as soon as they’re posting them. They seem quite taken aback by the pushback.
Unfortunately, nothing gets deleted from the Internet since the Wayback Machine archives everything.
Here’s the now deleted post defending the enforcement of their trademark. WLM editor Joshua Swanson writes:
With the passing of our founder and the new partnership that we formed, we’ve been a bit behind, but we’re now getting caught up and plan to continue to defend our trademark, as we have for decades.
In other words, get ready, we’re coming after ya!
Let’s go back to the beginning of the coining of the phrase ”worship leader” by my husband and his peers to address the calling on the lives of those that wanted to be more than just song leaders and music ministers.
Did Chuck Fromm actually coin the term “worship leader?” One person on Facebook posted several instances from the late 1800s that supposedly used the term “worship leader.” I researched each and found them NOT accurate. One claim was that the 1871 hymnal “The Service of Song for Baptist Churches” has a section titled “The Worship Leader.” You can find a digital copy of this hymnal online, but a search for “worship leader” returns no results.
The the writer of the Christianity Today article mentioned above found this:
A quick search of American newspaper archives reveals the term was in use to describe music ministers and church leaders across Christian denominations throughout the 20th century. A 1959 article from the Sunday Times of Bridgeport, Connecticut, refers to the “Rev. Joseph Church, worship leader” at First Methodist Church. A 1958 article in the Lewiston Daily Sun (Maine) detailing plans for ecumenical Lenten services gives six different individuals the title “worship leader.” It’s also not difficult to find hymnals from the early and mid-20th century that occasionally use the term.
Whether or not he did coin the term is irrelevant as they do indeed hold the trademark. The problem here is that the term “worship leader” is so ubiquitous that it’s laughable (and petty) they’re trying to defend their rights – especially in this relatively tiny worship industry. Perhaps “worship leader” will suffer the same fate as Band-Aid, Kleenex and Xerox – something called brand genericide. Do they truly believe the dumb populace is having trouble distinguishing between Rogue Worship Leader and Worship Leader Magazine?
There’s a great lesson to be learned here. Perhaps you can be technically and legally correct, but enforcing your rights might not be a great look. I doubt this is something Worship Leader Magazine will ever recover from.