Dear US Olympic Committee: Tweeting About The Olympics Is Never Trademark Infringement

from the seems-reasonable dept

It seems the USOC is just getting started with its bullying bullshit this Olympic season. Fresh off the heels of threatening Oiselle, a corporate sponsor of an Olympic athlete (but not a sponsor of the Olympics themselves), over trademark concerns because the company posted a congratulatory tweet for its sponsored athlete that included the Olympic bib she was wearing, the USOC is now sending out a helpful little reminder to other companies that have sponsored athletes but not the games. And by helpful, I mean that it’s helpful in seeing just how blatantly the USOC will outright lie in order to continue its bullying ways.

ESPN got its hands on the letter the USOC sent around.

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” reads the letter written by USOC chief marketing officer Lisa Baird. “This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

It’s the kind of blanket statement that the USOC likes to make, even as it avoids any of the pesky nuance that might call its claims into question. Certainly, as part of trademark law, a company’s Twitter account could not claim to be an Olympic sponsor, or attempt to confuse followers into thinking it had some kind of affiliation. And this might translate into that company not including trademarked hashtags themselves. But what about retweets? What about posts that mention the sponsored athlete but not the hashtags? What about informing followers of the success of the athletes the company sponsors?

Well, for that last one at least, the USOC has boldly claimed it owns the rights to facts.

The letter further stipulates that a company whose primary mission is not media-related cannot reference any Olympic results, cannot share or repost anything from the official Olympic account and cannot use any pictures taken at the Olympics.

Yeah, that’s not actually true. Like, at all. As we’ve pointed out in the past, several times, there is no applicable part of trademark law that applies to facts, such as the factual results or stats of a sporting event. And there’s no line in the sand to draw between the average Twitter user and a corporate Twitter account when it comes to this, meaning that corporate sponsors of athletes are absolutely free to mention the results of their sponsored athletes at the Olympic Games or trials. Beyond that blatant lie, claiming that a company’s account can’t retweet an Olympic account misunderstands the very nature of social media (make your damn account private then!), while blanket claims about what types of pictures of the games can be used completely ignores any Fair Use arguments that could be made, of which there are many.

But this is SOP for the USOC, even as they further lie about the necessity for all of this bullying.

While the USOC argues that money from sponsors and licensees who pay for the rights allow them to support athletes to go to the Games, Bergesen says the stringent rules hurt the athletes because companies that can’t support them during the Games can’t afford to pay them because of lack of promotion.

“It costs $300,000 to send an Olympian to the Games, and for our athletes, the USOC has reimbursed them about 1 percent of that cost,” Bergesen said. “Is that supporting them?”

Well, no, but of course that isn’t the point of the Olympics, which long ago transitioned into a money-making machine rather than any kind of international sporting competition. The corruption is so bad, few countries even want to bid to host them anymore. But, sure, keep focusing on corporate sponsors that want to congratulate their athletes, as though that was the problem.

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Comments on “Dear US Olympic Committee: Tweeting About The Olympics Is Never Trademark Infringement”

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Anonymous Coward says:

As someone who's dealt with the USOC

I can tell you that this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Nearly all of the athlete support comes from corporations via each sport’s governing body, e.g. US Swimming, US Bobsled, etc. Marquee athletes in marquee sports are usually fairly well supported, but everyone else is left to scrape by. (One of the athletes I know spent three years living in a treehouse near his training site. Couldn’t afford rent.)

However there is no shortage of money to send USOC members and their families to the games. I’m sure this surprises no one.

After spending years working very hard to help athletes reach their goals and represent the US, I’ve been convinced that in the case of the Olympics, it’s just not worth it. World Championships? Yes. World Cups? Yes. But Olympics? No. It’s gotten much too expensive, much too restrictive, and it’s become all about the USOC (and its peers in other countries) and the IOC, about branding and copyrights and trademarks, and above all, profits. There’s very little left of the spirit of the youth of the world getting together for peaceful competition.

And any city that wants to host the games is insane. Just full-on rubber-room insane. It would be better to just light 500M or 2B on fire and be done with it.

Carlie Coats (profile) says:

First Amendment concerns.

Just as the Supreme Court said that congress may not make any copyright law that is so stringent that it conflicts with the First Amendment (that being the origin of “fair use”, about a century ago), neither the Congress nor any State may make any contract nor trademark law that similarly conflicts with the First Amendment.

And anyone who tries to enforce the contrary should be strictly liable for the violation of Constitutional Rights.

Thomas Riggs says:

The Olympics have not been relevant in many years, with all the doping and cheating that goes. The cities that support the Olympics by proiding venues, usually end up losing money. TheIOC and USoc are corrupt and just need to go away. The Olympics sports themselves need to find new ways to showcase their sports and not use the Olympics as an excuse to have their sport have a championship of sorts. If the sport is good you should have a yearly championship. This one for every 4 years is just a bunch of hype for the Olympic committees to rake in more money. Watch the disaster of RIO and you will see why the Olympics need to go away.

brad (profile) says:

lots of money to be had

If you’re a politician then the Olympics are the payoff of a lifetime, so many new expensive projects being bid to dip your beak into. It may be a loss for the local venue, but that local venue’s mayor (and everyone else in a position to hold up construction projects) will be in for quite a windfall unless they hold to ethics/scruples/whatever. Every place that does a bid for the Olympics is basically announcing that their political staff is for sale.

TOS says:

"You can't say that."

I had a photo posted on my Zazzle website, an innocent photo of Pelicans flying over a San Diego beach. In the area for a description, I commented that the photo was taken with a Leica camera.

After TEN YEARS, I was notified by Zazzle that the photo was taken down because I had violated their TOS.

I requested details, and was informed that a Miss so-and-so from Leica had complained that I had used their company name, Leica, without their permission.

What an absurdity! I didn’t pursue the matter further other than to close my Zazzle account, which made had generated revenue for them with purchases of my work. Also, I resolved never to purchase another Leica product again.

I do continue to use nouns quite freely, however, such as Ford, Polaroid, Tesla, Apple, Microsoft, etc., which is quite useful for “normal” efforts to communicate despite the grumbling of self-appointed Speech & Thought Police.

Emily White (profile) says:

USOC told us we cannot RT press that mentions our start-up successfully funding Olympic athletes


I’m a co-founder at Dreamfuel; we build tools for athletes & teams. Our first tool is a crowdfunding platform built specifically for athletes.

As the average U.S. Olympic hopeful’s salary is $15,000 / year (additional info:; we have had Olympic athletes flock to our site more so than non-Olympic sports for this very reason. We’re thrilled to be able to provide a new and viable revenue stream to all athletes, whether they are Olympic sports or not.

We have been contacted by the USOC about all of the above (our team was stunned that we cannot publically congrautlate Dreamfuel athletes who qualify for The Olympics). I want to add that we’ve also been told that we also cannot post the press we’ve been receiving on the funding we’ve been generating for Olympic athletes (we don’t have a publicist; all press on our mission is organic by nature) because it uses the O word.

Thank you for writing this article.

Emily White & The Dreamfuel Team xo

Monday (profile) says:


What I have seen and read from a couple of individuals here (TD posts), and abroad, other sites with Olympic-sized migraine inducing comments, is that there are a lot of people just picking up the lube and taking it from the IOC/USOC.

Is it just me, because I think things definitely would change if this bullying, and attempts to stifle competition that really doesn’t exist were to be challenged.

Make the IOC/USOC spend all the profits, they obviously haven’t earned – they do nothing but send out threatening letters, and take payoffs, much like FIFA, yes, and spend it in court.

Other than challenging their claims, just continue with the actions you would normally want to do as a sponsor to your athlete. They have just as much a right to celebrate, or empathize with their athlete, as much as the IOC/USOC.

AC720 (profile) says:

The Summer Olympics were held in my city 20 years ago this summer. I saw how the thing worked from the inside and the Olympics were already an irrelevant marketing machine long before then. Anything that could be sold was sold, often with big promises to sponsors that their marketing would be allowed and protected from competing companies -if only they forked over more money. MONEY is all the USOC cares about, not representing the country or even supporting the atheletes beyond whatever minimal work it takes to make sure they show up for the games. Hell they make the athletes pay for a lot of stuff too.

And ATHLETES are the other issue: most people probably think the games are all about amateurs but in fact professional atheletes are brought in for some sports and quietly downplayed. So the people you see are not necessarily starving and struggling amateurs. They might be completely pro with millions of dollars in income. It’s a big fraud.

So once again I will go out of my way (it’s not very hard) to not watch any of the games or pay even the slightest attention to it. Screw them. The IOC cares so little about the athletes, they’re going to make the rowing crews perform in lakes of sewage where they will have to be taken to hospital and decontaminated if they fall in the water. WHAT THE HELL!? They’re so bold, they are toying with lives this year.

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