An Italian clothing company has issued a new commandment: Americans shalt not take the name of Jesus Jeans in vain.
In 2007, the Italian apparel line Jesus Jeans persuaded the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the word “Jesus” as a trademark, giving it exclusive rights in America to the name. Since then, Jesus Jeans has launched a campaign against at least a dozen U.S. apparel companies—mostly start-up clothing lines—that use the trademark without their blessing. There’s no cracking down on Christ’s image, says the jeans company—but His name is generally off-limits.
“If somebody, small church or even a big church, wants to use ‘Jesus’ for printing a few T-shirts, we don’t care,” Dominic Sindico, general counsel for intellectual property at Jesus Jeans’s parent company, BasicNet, told The Wall Street Journal. But when companies attempt to commercialize their products, “that’s a cause for concern,” he said.
Jeff Lamont, a California resident and country music songwriter, owns a collection of Christian-themed T-shirts called Jesus Up. Lamont says he first got the idea of Jesus Up while recuperating from surgery in 2011. “I was sitting in my backyard, with staples in my belly, and I heard God say, ‘Jesus Up,’” said Lamont. “When I found out the name wasn’t trademarked, I thought it was a gift from God.”
Lamont wants Jesus Up to become more than just an apparel line. He hopes to create an entire Jesus Up foundation that will support Christian ministries and causes with the proceeds of products that “spread the name of Jesus,” from T-shirts to cell phone covers.
When Jesus Jeans requested Lamont ditch his plans to commercialize Jesus Up apparel, he resisted. Before taking on Jesus Up, the Italian line challenged other companies like Jesus First and Jesus Couture, which ultimately abandoned their trademark efforts. Jesus Jeans is currently negotiating with Lamont on a mutual resolution acceptable to both parties.
Following a spiritual beach retreat, Michael Julias Anton, proprietor of the Christian clothing line Jesus Surfed, started selling T-shirts, hoodies and bandannas decorated with the silhouette of Jesus holding a giant surfboard under a palm grove. After Anton filed with the U.S. trademark office, Jesus Jeans asked him to abandon his application for the Jesus Surfed trademark.
Anton told The Wall Street Journal he’s seeking a lawyer to take up the case: “Jesus Jeans has absolutely nothing to do with anything biblical. I didn’t think it would be that big of a hassle.”
The Wall Street Journal reports piety had little to do with Jesus Jeans’s first ad campaigns in the 1970s, under different ownership. The ads—featuring the back of a woman in skimpy shorts under the slogan, “He who loves me follows me”—scandalized many Italians and were denounced by the Catholic Church.
In 2011, the company’s new owner, BasicNet, relaunched the brand with a “mellower image.” After reestablishing the brand in Italy, Jesus Jeans plans to bolster U.S. distribution with a marketing campaign focused on ideas of “solidarity” and a “peaceful society,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
While U.S. law does not restrict the registration of familiar terms, no matter how old or historic, some argue the name of Christianity’s central figure should be free for all.
“I still don’t agree with anybody putting a trademark on Jesus’ name,” said Lamont of Jesus Up. “His name is so big, nobody can own that. It’s for the world.”