IOC Threatens Ski Gear Company For Mentioning That Gold Medal Winner Wears Its Stuff

from the who-owns-a-name? dept

The International Olympics Committee’s abuse of intellectual property law continues to go to ridiculous lengths. Slashdot points out that apparently UVEX, makers of popular skiing gear such as goggles and helmets (I own a pair of their goggles, actually) had happily mentioned somewhere that gold medal winner Lindsey Vonn had worn some of their gear on their website… and the IOC sent them some sort of nastygram. Amusingly, UVEX responded in verse, with a blog post entitled Blonde we like wins Downhill (Last name rhymes with “Bonn”). Here’s a snippet:

There once was a lawyer from the IOC,
who called us to protect “intellectual property.”

“During the Olympics”, she said with a sneer
“your site can’t use an Olympian’s name even if they use your gear.”

“No pictures, no video, no blog posts can be used…”
Even if they are old? “No!”, she enthused.

While Olympians chase gold the IOC pursues green.
Cough up millions, or your logo cannot be seen.

I can’t see how such a claim could stand up in court. Accurately reporting that an Olympian wore your gear seems like it would fall under a perfectly legitimate fair use claim. But who has time to battle the IOC? In the meantime, did you know that Lindsey Vonn wore UVEX gear even though (gasp!) UVEX didn’t sponsor the Olympics?

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Companies: uvex

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Comments on “IOC Threatens Ski Gear Company For Mentioning That Gold Medal Winner Wears Its Stuff”

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51 Comments
Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Read Mike’s posting:

Accurately reporting that an Olympian wore your gear seems like it would fall under a perfectly legitimate fair use claim.

You can use trademarks if it is factually accurate. So a former playmate of the year can state on her website that she was a playmate of the year.

Ford can use the Chevrolet trademark in an advertisement where it compares its vehicle to GM’s vehicle.

And factually pointing out that an Olympic athlete wore your clothing is completely legal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Ima is absolutely correct. Indeed, Ford has been mentioning Toyota’s name in a number of their ads and because the use is factual, it is fair use.

Just because you have a trademark does not prevent others from using the trademark when referring to your goods and services and doing so is done correctly. The Olympic organization has no basis for complaint and will lose. In fact, the case should be dismissed before it gets very far.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re: Re:

Basically, the usage of a term (in that case, “Playmate of the Year”) was determined not to be infringing upon the term’s trademark, since it was used in a factually accurate manner (to describe an actual Playmate of the Year).

In THIS case, the same argument could be applied to Lindsey Vonn’s name, but like Techdirt pointed out, who has the time/money/desire to take on the IOC in court?

And I think the bigger question is this: since when did atheletes start handing over their names to the IOC for trademark purposes?

172pilot (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: since when did atheletes start handing over their names to the IOC for trademark purposes?

that’s what I was thinking… The IOC probably has no case, but Lindsey may, in that she could claim that they’re implying an endorsement of their product, when no such endorsement exists..

I think if I owned the goggle company, I’d have some smart @$$ remark like “See… Our products are so good that top atheletes use our products even when we dont pay them to!” That’s the best advertising yet!!

Overcast (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 since when did atheletes start handing over their names to the IOC for trademark purposes?

I think if I owned the goggle company, I’d have some smart @$$ remark like “See… Our products are so good that top atheletes use our products even when we dont pay them to!” That’s the best advertising yet!!i

Yeah, sharp idea… ๐Ÿ™‚

Heck, even if they get sued, it’s mass publicity… or maybe that was the intention from the start, huh? That’s pretty cynical of me, but…

kilroy says:

Re: Re: Re:2 since when did atheletes start handing over their names to the IOC for trademark purposes? ... and implied endorsements

I do not agree with your interpretation on that. If I wear a product made by a company … there is an implied endorsement. It is possible that anyone who witnesses me wearing that product may/will believe that I think it is a good product. Or at least good enough for me to use it … Then by extrapolation IF I am the best of the best (which I am not) they may believe that I may have had some benefit because of the product. That may or may not be correct but they are entitled to their opinion.

John Doe says:

I did hear and see that myself..

Yes, yes I did hear that Lyndsey Vonn wore UVEX gear when she won a gold medal in the Olympics. Not only that, I saw Lindsey Vonn wearing UVEX gear when she won a gold medal in the Olympics. I also recorded the Olympic event that Lindsey Vonn won her gold medal in while wearing UVEX gear. I paused and replayed the event that Lindsey Vonn won her gold medal in during the Olympics while wearing UVEX gear.

So I know for a fact that Lindsey Vonn wore UVEX gear while winning her gold medal in the Olympics.

Matt (profile) says:

Risky marketing move but perfectly legal

Neither Lindsey nor the IOC can stop them from factually reporting that she used their stuff.

But Lindsey could embarrass them by criticizing the performance of their gear or publicly switching to something else and saying it’s better. Since she doesn’t have a licensing deal with them, she’d be free to do it.

Of course, if I’m the company, I’m feeling pretty safe at this point to sit back and enjoy the free publicity — knowing that when the biggest race of her life came up, she chose our stuff and won — enough said.

Danny (user link) says:

And this is why...

people don’t have any respect for the Olypics anymore. Its not longer about competition, doing your best, bragging rights for your country, bonding, or other silly things like honor. No its all about how much money the IOC and Olympic sponsors can make. In four years there will be an official event called “Money Gauging” in which all the sponsors will compete for who can milk the most money during the Olympics and at the end the CEOs of the top three “earners” (and I use that very loosely) will get the medals.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think its more a function on the “reporting” scale. Similar to many athletes discontinuing blogs and twitter due to confusing rules. I *think* the point the IOC is trying to make is that while the Olympics are in session, there are a select group of people who have shelled out lots of cash for the privledge to be allowed to report. That is the only clause I can see them using to make this stick, and whether or not you like it, atleast while the Games are in session, the IOC owns that content and can dictate how it is distributed. Info on the games is a commodity, to be bought/sold/traded like any other.

Right?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That is the only clause I can see them using to make this stick, and whether or not you like it, atleast while the Games are in session, the IOC owns that content and can dictate how it is distributed. Info on the games is a commodity, to be bought/sold/traded like any other.

Right?

Wrong. They would *like* to own all that information and treat it like a commodity, but the law doesn’t work that way. They might have more leverage if the Olympics were an entirely private event, but since it runs on huge amounts of public money it’s hardly “private”. Facts are facts, and it’s pretty much never illegal to simply communicate a fact (I guess there are exceptions like if you have signed an NDA)

And nobody “owns” content, though a lot of people seem to think they do.

Pirate My Music (profile) says:

Lindsay Vonn

I was watching the olympics the other day as I am a UVEX enthusiast and I noticed that Lindsay Vonn was wearing UVEX goggles.

“Hot damn!” I thought to myself “Lindsay Vonn wearing UVEX goggles?”

Well, when I saw Lindsay Vonn wearing UVEX goggles, it was pretty great, but when Lindsay Vonn won a gold medal and she lifted her UVEX goggles to cheer to the crowd, I was ecstatic.

I think we can all agree that seeing UVEX goggles on an Olympian is surely wonderful, but seeing them on a Gold Medal winner, especially Lindsay Vonn, that was wonderful.

I think UVEX goggles on Gold Medal Winner Lindsay Vonn are probably the best use of UVEX goggles, and probably afforded Lindsay Vonn some spectacular views of the Olympic park when she won her Gold Medal.

(Not a shill for UVEX or Lindsay Vonn)

Matt (profile) says:

Thank you, New Kids on the Block

Even before the Welles case, the “nominative use” defense first came out in a case by Mike’s favorite band, the New Kids on the Block:

New Kids On The Block v. New America Publishing, Inc. The band, New Kids On The Block, claimed trademark infringement arising from the use of their trademarked name by several newspapers. The newspapers had conducted polls asking which member of the band New Kids On The Block was the best and most popular. The papers’ use of the trademarked term did not fall within the traditional fair use doctrine. Unlike a traditional fair use scenario, the defendant newspaper was using the trademarked term to describe not its own product, but the plaintiff’s. Thus, the factors used to evaluate fair use were inapplicable. The use was nonetheless permissible, we concluded, based on its nominative nature. We adopted the following test for nominative use:

First, the product or service in question must be one not readily identifiable without use of the trademark; second, only so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service; and third, the user must do nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.

We noted in New Kids that a nominative use may also be a commercial one.” –quoted from the Welles case.

tracker1 (profile) says:

I stopped watching...

I honestly stopped watching the Olympics when they shut down Olympic Pizza. It was a while ago, but that was when. I’ve disliked their bullying tactics, and absolutely refuse to watch anything related to them. I’ve been avoiding TV News in general since they started.

I’m actually considering not buying anything with an Olympics logo on their branding, at least while that logo is on their branding. Should probably note it somewhere.

OldGreyTroll (profile) says:

Biting the Hand That Feeds

Without digging too deeply, I see that the Slashdot article says UVEX sponsors Lindsey Vonn.

Even if UVEX is not directly giving money to the IOC, they are contributing resources that allow the IOC to have a show. It seems to me that the IOC has an interest in having the widest possible pool of athletes that they can exploit as cast members for their shows. Company contributions to athletes increases that pool by allowing more athletes to afford to show up.

I’m certain that most, if not all, companies that sponsor athletes do it so their name becomes visible to people who are most likely to be interested in the gear or services they sell. In this case, the IOC seems to be forcing them to make the contributions anonymously. This seriously reduces the incentive to make the sponsorship.

If this continues, I foresee fewer corporate sponsorships leading to fewer athletes.

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