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Courtesy of the General Council on Finance and Administration

Illustration of UMCmarket

Control of UMCmarket site now with church agency

By Heather Hahn
April 24, 2014 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The United Methodist Church’s finance agency, in an ongoing federal lawsuit, has control of the UMCmarket.org website at least through May 6.

The General Council on Finance and Administration had filed a lawsuit in March against Foundation Automation alleging that the vendor, contracted to promote the UMCmarket program, was squatting on the website and infringing on the denomination’s trademarks. The suit also said Foundation Automation has not paid fees due to the finance agency.

The online UMCmarket service, launched last year, allows United Methodists to shop at online retailers such as Amazon with a percentage of the sales donated to a local church or United Methodist ministry of their choice.

When people visit umcmarket.org, the site now automatically redirects to umcmarket.net, which the finance agency created soon after filing the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp on April 23 granted the finance agency’s request to continue a temporary restraining order to prevent Foundation Automation from interfering with user access to UMCmarket.org.

The order also prevents Foundation Automation from using trademarks maintained by the finance agency. These trademarks include “United Methodist,” the Cross and Flames logo, “UMC” and “UMCmarket.”

The judge initially granted a temporary restraining order April 10 and extended it this week to May 6. The next hearing in the case is currently scheduled for that date.

In an affidavit, the finance agency’s counsel, Alexandra Coulter Cross, said the agency has begun discussing a compromise and settlement of its dispute with Foundation Automation.

The affidavit also said Foundation Automation is not represented by an attorney in the case. The company has not filed any responses with the court since the lawsuit started.

Cross’s affidavit said Geir Thomas Kristiansen, the company's chief executive director, agreed on behalf of his company to continuing the temporary restraining order until the May 6 hearing.

In February 2013, the finance agency signed a contract with Foundation Automation and another company, Zebraplace, to create an online purchasing platform to support United Methodist ministries.

Foundation Automation agreed to market the site, provide a helpdesk and communicate with donors. Zebraplace agreed to develop and host the platform on its servers. Zebraplace is not a party in the lawsuit.

Without the finance agency’s knowledge, the suit said, Foundation Automation registered in its own name the domain name “UMCmarket.org.”

The finance agency does not dispute that the money collected by the UMCmarket program so far is reaching designated United Methodist churches and ministries. As of March 2014, the lawsuit said, users who made purchases through the program have donated more than $54,000 to United Methodist churches and denominational entities.

Foundation Automation is a limited liability company based in Boca Raton, Fla., that specializes in micro-donations.

Kristiansen is the son of retired Bishop Øystein Olsen in Norway. He told United Methodist News Service on April 7 he has done similar work in Europe. He said he initially entered the agreement with the council and Zebraplace because he wanted to help the church. He did not immediately return a call for comment on April 24.

The denomination’s finance agency said it does not comment on ongoing lawsuits.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org