How The Olympics Bullshit Ban On Tweeting About The Olympics Is Harming Olympic Athletes

from the all-about-the-profits-for-the-olympics dept

Every couple of years as the Olympics gears up again, we end up posting a series of stories about massive bullshit overclaims by the Olympics concerning trademark law. And none of it is actually about what trademark law allows. It’s all about the Olympics’ weird infatuation with making sure no company that doesn’t give them a ton of money first can “associate” with the Olympics. Again, that’s not how trademark law actually works, but few companies are willing to stand up to the International Olympic Committee or the US Olympic Committee. This year, the crackdown seems even more ridiculous than usual, with letters being sent to companies who are helping and sponsoring athletes stating that, unless they’re official sponsors with the US Olympic Committee, they can’t even tweet anything mentioning the Olympics. Companies that had sponsored athletes were being forced to blur out or delete social media posts about their own athletes because their racing bibs said “Olympics” on them.

In our comments, Emily White, the founder of a crowdfunding for athletes site, Dreamfuel, which many Olympians use to help fund their training or the abilities of their families to come see them at the Olympics, shared her story as well. That included being told that a company built specifically to help fund athletes can’t congratulate their own athletes:

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 publicly congratulate 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.

I’ve been speaking with Emily about all of this and apparently after pressure from the Olympics about their special campaigns to get funding for families to come to the Olympics, they were told to never mention the Olympics or “Olympians” at all. They can only say “athletes” who are going to “Brazil” (they were told they can’t even say “Rio”).

Last Wednesday, the rules got even stricter as “Rule 40” went into effect. This ratchets things up to ridiculous levels and basically says that if a company so much as tweets a congratulations to an Olympic athlete, that could cost the athlete their medals. Really. And, yes, that’s totally fucked up. Ridiculously, the Olympics claim that they put in place Rule 40 to prevent commercialization of the games, that are perhaps the most commercialized sporting event ever — it’s just that all the money goes to the Olympics themselves, and not to the athletes.

At least one company went so far as to build an entire marketing campaign around attacking Rule 40:

During the U.S. Olympic track & field trials earlier this month, a flatbed billboard truck traveled around the University of Oregon campus, bearing slogans such as, ?Not pictured here: an athlete living below the poverty line to bring glory to their country.? It was part of a campaign, called ?Rule 40? in reference to the section of the Olympic charter which it disputes, that went live in early June and has mainly consisted of social media posts and covertly-distributed T-shirts and stickers.

The campaign takes issue with an International Olympic Committee rule preventing any participant in the Olympics?athletes, coaches, trainers and officials?from capitalizing on their own image for advertising purposes from nine days before the opening ceremony until three days after.

There’s even a Rule40.com website protesting the ridiculousness of these rules, and it’s getting lots of folks talking about how ridiculous these rules are.

Going back to Dreamfuel, with Rule 40 going into effect, she tells me that at least some family members of the athletes using Dreamfuel were surprised and upset to see that a bunch of the images of their children had to come down from the funding campaigns, or the athletes might get disqualified altogether. Because the US Olympic Committee says that companies can’t mention anything during the Rule 40 period — but individuals can — it leaves Dreamfuel in a weird position where it’s announced it can’t promote its own crowdfunding campaigns that help the families of athletes get to the Olympics, but Emily can tweet them out as an individual.

This whole thing is absolutely ridiculous. And the fact that they’re threatening Dreamfuel helps underline what a complete lie it is for the Olympics to claim that this is about stopping the overcommercialization of the Olympics. Just like Kickstarter helped make it easier for independent creators to create and innovate without having to get big corporate backing, Dreamfuel has done that for athletes and their families. As a platform, it’s the antidote to overcommercialization… and yet the Olympics are silencing the company from even letting people know that they can help support Olympians and their families in Rio.

I’m hoping that someone, somewhere eventually challenges the Olympics with a declaratory judgment filing or something. The trademark claims here are ludicrous and are directly being used to silence speech.

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Companies: dreamfuel, usoc

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Comments on “How The Olympics Bullshit Ban On Tweeting About The Olympics Is Harming Olympic Athletes”

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60 Comments
Jason says:

grant their wish?

I’m hoping that someone, somewhere eventually challenges the Olympics with a declaratory judgment filing or something.

Or, while we’re dreaming, how about hoping we just give the IOC what it really seems to want, and no one talk, post, tweet, watch, or think about the Olympics anywhere, ever?

ECA (profile) says:

Re: grant their wish?

would love TO,….
aDVERTISING/WORD OF MOUTH AND ALL OTHER KNOWLEDGE, means someone said something..

NO news is good news, isnt correct if you need People to goto an event..
I can see it NOW, all Airlines do NOT increase Flights to RIO..because they didnt HEAR about it..and Couldnt POST special sales and TIMES for it..because OLYMPICS is CP..

Whoever says:

Treaty is quite explicit, and limited.

The Nairobi treaty defines trademark protection for the Olympics. The interesting thing about this treaty and its implementation under US law is that it is limited to a small number of marks, and many that the USOC or the IOC claim people cannot use are simply not included in the treaty and law. For example “Rio” is not protected:

2. Which Olympic trademarks are protected in the United States?

The Olympic trademarks protected by U.S. statute (36 U.S.C. § 220506(c)) include the name “UNITED STATES OLYMPIC COMMITTEE”; the symbol of the IOC, consisting of five interlocking rings; the words “Olympic,” “Olympiad” and “Citius Altius Fortius,” and also the words “Paralympic,” “Paralympiad,” “Pan-American” and “America Espirito Sport Fraternite,” or any combination of these words; the emblem of the United States Olympic Committee, consisting of an escutcheon having a blue chief and vertically extending red and white bars on the base with five interlocking rings displayed on the chief; and the symbols of the International Paralympic Committee and the Pan-American Sports Organization, consisting of a torch surrounded by concentric rings.

http://www.inta.org/TrademarkBasics/FactSheets/Pages/ProtectionofOlympicTrademarks.aspx
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/36/220506

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Treaty is quite explicit, and limited.

Also remember that Trademarks are designed to prevent confusion, not bestow ownership of words. As long as you’re referring to the real Olympics when you say “Olympics” it’s not a trademark violation. The IOC anc USOC are trying to push the bounds to mean that anyone who says the word “Olympics” is claiming they are affiliated with the Olympics. That’s just not how our language works; for example:

“The once proud and inspirational Olympic Games, International Olympic Committee, and United States Olympic Committee have slowly transitioned into a rancid pool of self aggrandizement and exploitation more disgusting and dangerous than the actual virally fecund waters they hope to subject world class athletes to in exchange for billions in corrupt corporate sponsorships as well as untold costs in local revenue and societal wellfare.”

Talking about the real Olympics? Yep.
Not claiming to represent the Olympics? Nope.
Then you’re A-Okay!

Whoever says:

Re: Re: Treaty is quite explicit, and limited.

As long as you’re referring to the real Olympics when you say “Olympics” it’s not a trademark violation.

You should read the links that I posted. The Olympics have a special kind of trademark, where the IOC or USOC does not have to show actual or possible confusion in order to enforce these special trademarks.

However, in an example of the dick-ishness of the USOC, the USOC went after someone who wrote a guide book about the Olympic area of Washington state. That use of “Olympic” is an exception to the trademarks that is specifically written into the treaty.
http://seattletrademarklawyer.com/blog/2007/8/13/best-of-the-olympic-peninsula-guide-runs-afoul-of-us-olympic.html

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Treaty is quite explicit, and limited.

36 U.S.C. § 220501, et seq., vests with the USOC near monopoly rights over the words

So… not a trademark. Is this the kind of thing that could be tossed out as unconstitutional or is it a loophole of trashing citizens’ rights to fulfill “international agreements”?

Carlie Coats (profile) says:

Re: Judicial precedent

In the original decision that established the copyright doctrine of Fair Use, the US Supreme Court declared that Congress may not make copyright law so strict that it violates First Amendment rights.

Logically speaking, the same principle says that Congress may not make trademark law so strict that it violates First Amendment rights. And trying to enforce the contrary should put the IOC and/or USOC in for really huge penalties — say a hundred-billion-dollar class action suit?

eaving (profile) says:

Problem being

The main issue though, as much as we all understand that this is legally bullshit is that they CAN enforce their ‘no medal for you’ policy. So yes a company I am certain could totally get away with tweeting about their supported athlete and win whatever legal backlash came at them. Threatening the very athletes the IOC is pretending to protect, while objectively horrible, will also be effective. If you were shooting for reprehensible but effective than job done guys, congrats.

John says:

Re: Problem being

I wonder how the IOC would handle a company tweeting about every athlete in a particular competition. The uproar of taking a medal off of an athlete for commercialisation that they had no part in would be huge. But if they did it to one, they wouldh have to do to all the athletes, whihc I doubt. I do worry that the IOC is so greedy that it would probably ban everyone and destroying the athletes dream.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

I really think a bunch of the athletes should very publicly protest during the games.

If I was at that level I think I would keep my mouth shut till after the event I was in. Then if I won I would toss their metal back at them and very publicly tell them where to shove it. At that point what does it matter? They can take the metal and say your disqualified, but the world will still know your the best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Give 'em what they want

I won’t even risk the word being heard on my television set this time around, and will shred my newspapers before they get into my house lest the printed word somehow open me up to litigation or threat.

They are dead to me, they should be thrilled if more folks would be like me.

Anonymous Coward says:

This ratchets things up to ridiculous levels and basically says that if a company so much as tweets a congratulations to an Olympic athlete, that could cost the athlete their medals. Really. And, yes, that’s totally fucked up.

They should do it anyway, and then dare the Olympics to go through with their threats and cause an international controversy.

I guarantee it would blow up horribly in the Olympics face, especially if the athlete was from a wealthy country that put a lot of money into the Olympics.

And that’s really the only way these horrible rules will get reformed/removed.

streetlight (profile) says:

And what about other sports?

There are always some kind of announcements about a traditional professional American sport broadcast noting that the descriptions are copyrighted. Not sure whether the game itself is copyrighted. That’s the sport involving attempts by participants using a wooden device of cylindrical symmetry to strike a spherical object thrown by an opposing participant in order to propel the spherical object away from defensive participants.

ECA (profile) says:

Warning: do not read the conditions to be an olympian..

ANYONE know the Jim Thorpe story?
Go watch of read it, you will find it on the net..

UNTIL RECENT..
You could NOT be a professional ANYTHING, to be an Olympian..
You could not Gain any monies from a corp..

In the USA, the Gov. Never backed an olympian..

The rules to be in the olympics are STRANGE and STUPID..

And JUST because:
WHO can Justify the CR of a word created over 1000 years ago??

Anonymous Coward says:

Required reading

This appeared in the Washington Post a couple of days ago; it’s required reading:

Olympic executives cash in on a ‘Movement’ that keeps athletes poor

My own take:

I’ve commented here before about the USOC and IOC because I had some involvement with them in my own (minor) sport. They are ALL about self-aggrandizement and luxury and profit, and couldn’t care less about the damage done to host countries/cities or the health of athletes. They’ve managed to leverage athletes’ natural desire to excel and to compete at the highest levels possible into the machinery of their own self-perpetuation.

I got out. I tried changing the system from within for years, achieved almost nothing (not surprising), wrecked my physical and mental health, made a few powerful enemies, and finally bailed rather than self-destruct. Others have done the same; others have persisted, and I salute them, because I know first-hand exactly what they’re going through. I’ve now become convinced that the best available option for everyone on this planet except the IOC, the USOC (and its equivalents in other countries) is to shut down the Olympics permanently.

Which I say sadly, as it could be beautiful and wonderful and every positive thing…but it isn’t. And it won’t be. It has been corrupted by power and greed into a twisted, sick parody of itself. It can’t be fixed. It’s beyond repair. It’s time to shut it down.

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