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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  • identicon
    Jason, 2 Aug 2016 @ 8:41am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:26am

      Re: grant their wish?

      That. Make it vanish. I do pity the athletes that are truly doing their best though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      tracyanne, 2 Aug 2016 @ 3:25pm

      Re: grant their wish?

      I agree, in fact lets encourage them to make even more draconian, stupid rules, and maybe enough athletes will ignore the Olympics, and they will go away forever.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 4:08pm

      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..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 8:42am

    Personally, I'm following their lead.

    I have banned all mention of "that event" from my home.

    Anything really important will show up on youtube anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 2 Aug 2016 @ 8:43am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy Lyman (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:35am

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Whoever, 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:40am

        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-u s-olympic.html

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Jeremy Lyman (profile), 3 Aug 2016 @ 4:32am

          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"?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2016 @ 5:18pm

      Re: Treaty is quite explicit, and limited.

      Washington state has a mountain range and peninsula named "Olympic" and I doubt the USOC or IOC is going to be able to change that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 2 Aug 2016 @ 8:51am

    If they are going to take medals away from athletes...

    Maybe a bunch of US companies could congratulate all the Russian and Chinese athletes when they win medals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Cowherd, 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:16am

      Re: If they are going to take medals away from athletes...

      Someone sufficiently bold could just congratulate all the athletes. The rule would quickly be discarded if the alternative was to have no games at all because everyone's disqualified.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 3 Aug 2016 @ 12:50am

      Re: If they are going to take medals away from athletes...

      "Phizer Pharmaceutics congratulates the Russian and Chinese athletes for a very impressive performance."

      Oh that would be gold. Or not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 8:51am

    If I had a business, I would donate to Athletes and I would spam the hell out of it. Want to sue me? go ahead, put yourself in the headlines for trying to shut down a small business for supporting someone to fill their dreams. Crowdsource that defense and then counter sue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Carlie Coats, 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:01am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    eaving (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 8:53am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy2020 (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:14am

      Re: Problem being

      I would love to see the press on the ioc taking away a medal because someone congratulated an athlete they sponsored.

      This seems to be just the thing needed to break open that can of worms.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:48pm

        Phrase it right and everybody loves you:

        Athlete $x was disqualified after the race when his webcrawl tested positive for Twitter.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:12am

      Re: Problem being

      Threatening the very athletes the IOC is pretending to protect, while objectively horrible, will also be effective.


      Until that behavior starts to hit the news and lots of people take notice. Then the court of public opinion just might turn against the IOC.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      John, 2 Aug 2016 @ 7:03pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Machin Shin (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:18am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:19am

    Wow, I had no idea this was THAT fucked up... It almost makes FIFA look good, which is really something you need to put acctual work into! Good on you IOC!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:19am

    Own the althetes

    It sounds like this rule 40 also claims the individual athletes as property of the Olympic Committee. Challenge the rule on that basis

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:25am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    s7, 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:31am

    I thought it had been determined that corporations are people??

    People are allowed to tweet all they want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:43am

    Sometimes it's hard to decide which is a worse IP bully, the Olympics or the World Cup?

    Maybe sports fans should get together and create an alternative, non-commercial, non-IP, 'opensource' event, like a modern version of the Friendship Games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kallethen, 2 Aug 2016 @ 9:58am

    It's worse than the NFL with their claims over the Sup- um... Big game.

    ... Dammit, I just got a notice that I violated because they also claim the B and G words above.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:00am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Caleb (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:04am

      Re:

      How about we convince a few companies to post/tweet/blog about "supporting" Chinese/Russian Olympians?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:18am

        Re: Re:

        It doesn't need to be Russia or China. And in fact it would be good if several nations did it. It would be very interesting to see the IOC disqualifying hundreds and hundreds. Of course if it comes to this they will bend, too much to be lost here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    streetlight (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:10am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DreamfuelEmily (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:15am

    Thanks so much Mike & Techdirt for covering this issue! We'd push this piece out on Dreamfuel's social media but..... :) xoxo

    Thanks again,
    Emily

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:29am

      Re:

      If anything I'd think Mike would take the fight head on. And many here would fund the fight against these assholes.

      For me the Olympics has lost any appeal it had a long time ago. And seeing how bad it is live (it's happening right here now) I have even less sympathy for them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon., 5 Aug 2016 @ 10:32am

      Re:

      This degree of douchebaggery would make good material for John Oliver / Last Week Tonight.

      It never ceases to amaze me just how many politicians round the planet are not just aware of him, but are kind of awe-struck by him...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul, 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:16am

    a congratulations to an Olympic athlete, that could cost the athlete their medals.

    It's about time this nation-bankrupting venue gets renamed to ASSLYMPICS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:34am

    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??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 10:58am

    I was out after Jim Thorpe

    And this is why we do not support companies that are 'allowed' to advertise with the Olympics. You have Olympic shit on your product? Great, helps me support your competition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Adam, 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:17am

    What?

    Someone tell me again how the Olympics are still relevant. Isn't it just time to turn them off?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:21am

      Re: What?

      A lot of money to be laundered and stolen from the citizenry. Can't close that route, can we?

      Considering how FIFA got hit with corruption scandals after they came to Brazil (seriously, it was a feast) I'm hoping the same happens to the IOC and the USOC and a bunch of these morons go to jail.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:39am

    "if a company so much as tweets a congratulations to an Olympic athlete, that could cost the athlete their medals"

    In other words, the medals are not awarded to the best athletes anyway.. So who gives a crap who gets them anymore?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 11:39am

    Talk about money for nothing, and lots of it. What the hell does the Commission actually do?

    unless they're official sponsors with the US Olympic Committee


    I wouldn't "sponsor" them if they were on fire.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 12:26pm

    New slogan

    Come for the games, stay for the virus and corruption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2016 @ 5:41pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Moby (profile), 2 Aug 2016 @ 7:31pm

    Just ignore it

    I stopped watching said group years ago over this ever increasing ridiculous behavior. Not to mention, they've become an international embarrassment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 4 Aug 2016 @ 8:44am

    Olympics?

    What's that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon, 5 Aug 2016 @ 10:48am

      Re: Olympics?

      I'm actually sad that this fine old historic sporting event, this ancient ideal to pit the world's greatest sportsmen and women against each other, this zenith of the human condition, the very pinnacle of human competition, has descended into such obscene and farcical behaviour.

      Nothing less than a tragedy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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