The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) sent out a letter last week warning non-sponsor companies against using the Olympics’ intellectual property.
Individuals, the media and official sponsors are (for the most part) able to post about the games and the participating athletes, but businesses and brands that do not have an agreement with the USOC are blocked from directly discussing the games, which includes over social media platforms.
The USOC warned businesses in the letter, stating in part, “do not create social media posts that are Olympic themed, that feature Olympic trademarks, that contain Games imagery or congratulate Olympic performance unless you are an official sponsor as specified in the Social Media Section.” The official blackout period runs from July 27 through August 24.
Businesses can’t use any of the Olympics’ trademarked words or phrases which includes: Olympic, Olympian, Team USA, Future Olympian, Gateway to gold, Go for the gold, Let the games begin, Paralympic, Pan Am Games, Olympiad, Paralympiad, and Pan-American.
The restrictions also mean that businesses can’t use terms that reference the location of the Olympics, which includes words and phrases such as “Road to Rio” and “Rio 2016.” Businesses are not permitted to use hashtags that include Olympics trademarks such as #TeamUSA or #Rio2016.
The restrictions even ban businesses from featuring Olympic athletes in social media posts, wishing athletes luck, or posting Olympic results. Retweets of official Olympics Twitter accounts are prohibited.
Olympic trademark protection is intensely guarded around the world. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) actually requires each host country to create “special trademark protection” laws in order to enforce their stringent policies against infringement. In the United States, these rules are enforced by U.S. Code Chapter 2205.
The IOC’s main source of revenue comes from broadcast rights and lucrative sponsorship deals which may be worth north of $4 billion this summer. In order for those sponsorship deals to remain so lucrative, the IOC has to showcase and protect the reasons why potential sponsors should contract with the Olympic, which gives them strong reason to enforce their exclusive rights to Olympic branding.
Under American trademark law, the failure to take action against infringing parties may lead to the loss of one’s trademark itself. It isn’t the responsibility of trademark holders to discover all possible infringements of their trademark, but it is important that holders actively protect their trademarks against infringers. A court may rule that a trademark holder “acquiesced” the use of their trademark to an infringing party, if the holder doesn’t take action against the potential infringer.
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