Mark Rees-Andersen, a 28-year-old former philosophy student, is scheduled to face the Roman Catholic Church in a Copenhagen court today. The church is demanding that the game designer stop using the Latin phrase ‘Opus Dei’ (God’s Work) in the title of his game, ‘Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion’. Rees-Andersen’s battle with the Vatican started as a result of the game he developed with Allan Schaufuss Lauersen, while the two were studying philosophy in Copenhagen.
The church and the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei (in Latin: Praelatura Sanctae Crucis et Operis Dei), the Vatican organisation known world-wide as Opus Dei, are suing Rees-Andersen for 200,000 kroner for using its name in his game. The lawsuit also calls on the court to order Andersen to shut down his websites opus-dei.co.uk and opus-dei.dk.
It took four years for Rees-Andersen and his partner to develop the prototype for the strategy game in which gamers try to create the perfect world. The game is currently only available in a few places in Germany, the UK, the US and Canada.
“It’s an incredibly nerdy game, but we came up with it to help people learn about philosophy,” Rees-Andersen told Politiken newspaper.
Rees-Andersen holds Danish patents on the logo and title of the game and internet domain rights to a British and Danish site.
In 2009, he received a letter from Opus Dei’s Spanish district, which claimed it had exclusive rights to the Opus Dei brand throughout the European Union and in several other countries. The letter insisted that Rees-Andersen immediately stop using the phrase and remove it from the game and websites.
“I was angry,” Rees-Andersen said. “We had developed a small niche game for philosophers and they brought out the heavy artillery.”
The original case was handled by the Danish patent office, which challenged Opus Dei to prove that it had actually used the logo. The organisation failed to produce proof, and Rees-Andersen was allowed to continue using the name.
In 2010, the church took the case to Denmark's Sø- og Handelsret, which rules in patent disputes.
Opus Dei argues that its organisation operates in over 70 countries and says that it uses the name Opus Dei as a brand for its activities.
The suit against Rees-Andersen challenges that he must have known about the organisation since he acknowledged that he had read Dan Brown’s novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which features Opus Dei as an on-going organisation.
Lawyers for Opus Dei would not comment on the case, but the organisation lost a challenge against Sony Pictures when it demanded that the phrase be removed from the film version of Brown’s novel.
“Opus Dei is a common concept that no one can claim the rights to, just as you cannot demand exclusive rights to Jesus Christ, God or the Virgin Mary,” said Rees-Andersen.
The Opus Dei community was founded in 1928 in Spain by a Catholic priest and in 1982 it was established as its own diocese, headed by a bishop who reports directly to the pope.
"They believe they have exclusive rights to the concept of 'Opus Dei', but it is an ancient concept that was used millions of times before their organisation even existed,” said Rees Andersen.
The law firm Gorrissen Federspiel, is handling Rees-Andersen’s case pro bono. The firm has four lawyers working to prevent Opus Dei from breaking the young man financially, which it believes is the real aim of the lawsuit.
Rees-Andersen said that he views the struggle as a battle with the Pope himself, and he created a Facebook page called ‘Arrest the Pope’ which features a drawing of the pontiff in handcuffs and negative stories about the Vatican and the Catholic Church. He has handed out free tee shirts in London bearing the slogan ‘Arrest the Pope’.
“The case is much bigger than me and my game,” said Rees-Andersen. “My belief is that the Vatican does not have a patent on God.”