How Copyrights Ruined the Olympics and What You Can Learn From It

The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, with London 2012 on course to achieving record-breaking viewing figures across the globe.

The Olympic brand is widely recognized and is, therefore, a significant and highly valuable asset of the Olympic Movement.

The London 2012 Olympics will be remembered for its particularly aggressive stance on brand protection with new laws being passed – the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 (OSPA) and the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.

These laws stand alongside existing copyright, trademark and other intellectual property laws and create a new ‘Unauthorized Association’ Law for the protection of the Olympic brand.

Olympics Sets New High for Brand Protection

Collectively, the brand encompasses a variety of names, phrases, logos and designs, known as the ‘Games’ Marks’.

The legal protection is necessary to preserve the commercial value of the brand and to bestow upon authorized sponsors and licensees of the Games exclusive rights to use the Olympic brands.

At first glance, this would seem fair enough. Companies employ teams of graphic designers, copywriters, web designers and other creatives in order to generate and promote their brands. Brand awareness is now an essential part of business.

So, why should an authorized sponsor or licensee invest heavily in the Games if an unauthorized company is free to use the Olympic brands to its own advantage without investment?

The problem is to what degree intellectual property, copyright and trademark laws for brand protection should be enforced?

Even without this recent legislation, the ordinary man-on-the-street understands that if Coca-Cola is one of the sponsors of The Games, Pepsi setting up stall in the Olympic Park, its logo beamed into millions of homes worldwide, just isn’t on.

However, while strict adherence to copyright and trademark laws make sense on commercial scales such as this, many are struggling to understand the value of the strict application of the law to small local businesses.

Encouraged to get into the Olympic Spirit, some businesses have subsequently found themselves in trouble with the Olympic Branding body by their unauthorized use of the Games’ Marks.

Olympics Puts Heat On Local Shops and Mom & Pop Creativity

Paul Clark, a Brighton butcher advertising an ‘Olympic Barbecue Special,’ on a board outside his shop, a florist in Stoke-on-Trent with an Olympic Rings window display made from tissue paper and a London baker who made Olympic rings from bagels have all fallen foul of the law, and their unauthorized uses of the Olympic Marks have had to be removed.

Mr. Clark said ‘I’m absolutely gob-smacked. They encourage the public to get involved and tell us that these are ‘our games’ and then go and do something like this….I’m trying to run a small business during a difficult time and this is yet more bully-boy tactics from the big companies.’

You can see his point. The legacy of the London 2012 Olympics is ‘creating sustainable social, economic and sporting legacies at home.’

Surely a local shop is able to benefit from the economic legacy without infringing copyright, trademark and all the other associated legislation protecting the Games’ big company sponsors?

The organizers of London 2012 have been roundly criticized for this over-zealous application of the law, even by the former marketing director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Michael Payne.

He told The Independent that the rules were “never intended to shut down the flower shop that put its flowers in Olympic rings in the window, or the local butcher who has put out his meat in an Olympic display.”

Enforcement Sends Mixed Messages

The mixed messages espoused by senior figures in London have done little to help people understand just what is permissible, and what is not.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is typically unimpressed with the army of lawyers and trading standards officials who are enforcing heavy-handed brand regulations, calling it ‘absolute nonsense.’

Interviewed on Sky TV he said, ‘If you want to stick five doughnuts in your window and call them Olympic rings then be my guest…Certainly no brand army is going to have the support of the administration in London, and we won’t be making any efforts to enforce it ourselves.’

Lord Coe, the Head of the London 2012 Organizing Committee (LOCOG), took an entirely different stance from Mr. Johnson, suggesting on BBC Radio 4’s Today, that a shirt bearing the Pepsi logo would be most likely banned from Olympic venues.

Unsurprisingly, this started a flurry of anxiety from spectators, over what clothing to wear.

This is generally a common theme among sports spectators in Britain, but usually it is the curse of the British weather driving such angst, rather than the fear of being banned for wearing the wrong-brand.

However, LOCOG quickly denied that non-sponsored attire would be banned, stating that Lord Coe probably confused the dress rules for the workforce where branded clothing, other than that of the sponsors, was disallowed.

LOCOG admitted that clothing would be an issue if large groups came together wearing clearly visible branding as it could be classed as ‘ambush marketing’.

So, clearly, if Lord Coe, who is chairman of the committee that enforces brand protection is confused by what is allowed, and the Mayor of London thinks its nonsense, then there isn’t much hope for anyone else to make sense of it.

Crackdown On Fries. Exception made for Fish & Chips.

Similarly, confusion reigned within the Olympic venues over catering arrangements, in particular, a chip embargo.

As ridiculous as it may seem, McDonald’s sponsorship deal bestowed on it the exclusive right to sell chips.

Other caterers could not sell chips – unless they were selling them with fish. This special dispensation presumably allowed because fish and chips is a traditional British dish.

But, so too is pie and chips, chicken and chips, egg and chips and even chip butties. Catering staff were besieged with complaints over the lack of chips for sale, but had to respond with ‘McDonald’s own the rights, so we’re not allowed to.’

It is not only remarkable that a company selling French fries can own the right to chips, but to the paying public it is just bonkers.

The crux of the matter is that, in the end, pernicious brand protection rackets leaves paying customers as the losers when their freedom to choose is taken away. You may only have chips with fish. Or go to McDonald’s.

And you must pay for it with Visa (or cash) as no other cards are accepted. And when the rain starts your umbrella will be confiscated because it has a logo which is not authorized.

Small, local businesses hoping for an economic boom during The Games will also be the losers, pushed out by the big-moneyed sponsors who have the full might of every conceivable intellectual property law backing them.

The winners, inevitably, are the huge multinational companies who have sponsorship deals.

Clever Marketing Wins Over Consumers

However, with clever marketing campaigns using online video and social media, it was reported that Google, Nike, Pepsi and Burger King were voted by consumers to be among their top 15 favorite Olympic brands – a pretty impressive feat given that none of them were actually Olympic sponsors.

In fact, more viewers identified Nike as the primary shoe sponsor of the Olympics than Adidas, who were the actual sponsors – which goes to show that even though exclusive sponsorships can present legal challenges to creatives, a clever campaign will always win through.

And you don’t have to be big businesses with a host of designers and lawyers behind you to make an impact. Focus Formal Wear in Surbiton had five interlocking squares in its shop window with the words Lodnon 2102 Oimplycs displayed above. The Spirit of the Games is alive in Surbiton, without the ‘brand army’s’ interference.

Creativity Can Save the Day

Creatives can take heart that legal obstacles may present some difficulties, but thinking outside the box opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Although the ‘Association Right’ was created to stop the Olympic brand being hijacked by non-authorized companies, in the end it was as ineffectual as the other intellectual property legislation against the Big Boys.

Smart, witty and intelligent campaigns have shown that the use of unauthorized trademarks or copyrights is simply not needed in order to get the message across. Copyright may have ruined the Olympics but it will never ruin creativity.

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About the Author: Amanda Duffy has a degree in law from the University of Westminster, London.  She has had a successful career in music copyright and publishing at the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, the BBC and FremantleMedia. She is now a freelance writer.

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