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.
— Jonathan Levitt (@JWLevitt) July 28, 2016
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.
— Dreamfuel (@DreamfuelMe) July 28, 2016
— Emily White (@emwizzle) July 29, 2016
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.