Does over-zealous enforcement of Olympic rights tarnish the games and the associated brands?

So, the Games of the XXX Olympiad also known as The Great Advertising Jamboree  London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 2012 begin this week.  And as most people know by now, The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic GamesLOCOG, has been given a big shiny stick by the British government with which to beat anyone who dares to try and associate themselves or their business with the Games.
Olympic gold
This Kat has two concerns on his addled feline brain: (i) whether the zeal with which LOCOG's stick has been brandished, as it were, has in fact tarnished the Olympic brands and the associated official sponsors, and (ii) whether the damage sustained by negative press coverage and a dampened public enthusiasm for the Olympic Games is actually greater than the damage which could have been suffered from ambush marketing.

LOCOG's stick in fact comes in the shape of t
he London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, and makes unlawful [and indeed criminal - Merpel] the use of a representation in the course of trade which is likely to create an association in the mind of the public with the Olympic Games. Essentially, if using any of the Olympic signs, "listed expressions" or just about anything else creates a commercial connection with the Olympic Games, then LOCOG will get you. 

This means those most heinous of crimes: selling a "flaming torch breakfast baguette" (now extinguished); or using a tissue paper Olympic rings window display (now blown away), can be punished by fines of up to £20,000.

During a radio debate on the BBC's Today programme last Friday, Lord Coe, Chairman of LOCOG, was asked by presenter Evan Davis whether he was allowed to wear a Pepsi t-shirt to an Olympic event. Lord Coe replied that he could not but (after some hesitation) that he would probably be allowed to wear Nike trainers. How reassuring.

In response to that interview, Michael Payne, a former marketing director at the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, said London's over-zealous enforcement of brand protection risked damaging the Games.  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".
During the Queen's Jubilee celebrations earlier in 2012, the UK was covered in bunting as well as street parties as royalists [and people just enjoying an extra day's holiday - Merpel] got into the spirit of celebration. In exchange for their colourful contribution to a country teetering on recession, the shops are reckoned to have received just over half a billion pounds in additional income. 

For the Olympic Games however, retailers have adopted a far more subdued and reserved tone. As a nation of shopkeepers, we're used to seeing great enthusiasm and excitement as a national event approaches.  The enhanced LOCOG and official sponsors' rights have changed all that.  Instead of handing out the flags and building support for our athletes, we're now looking over our shoulders and restraining the country in the ordinary course of celebration.  Sure, the procession of official sponsors handing out branded paraphenalia Olympic torch did the rounds but, like the British weather for much of July, the Olympic police seem to have dampened spirits and scared businesses into submission.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games in 1894 as an amateur competition.  Times have clearly moved on since then.  From one perspective the IOC has done well: at its simplest, the Olympic Games is now an aggregate collection of sports which, individually, most ordinary people do not really care about, mixed with enough razzmatazz, celebrities and media attention to make people think they really are fascinated as to who wins the pole vault/shooting/Greco-Roman wrestling.  But it is well packaged and attractive as a brand, particularly to purveyors of burgers, chips and fizzy drinks seeking to piggyback the fitness theme.

On the other hand, there are some quarters which resent the over-commercialisation of the
Olympic Games and bullyboy tactics of LOCOG.  Will they harm the Olympic brand?  Probably not sufficiently enough to be worth considering - any damage is local to the host country and the real money is in increasing the global television audience and selling the next set of rights for more cash in four years' time.  Will enforcement harm the sponsor brands?  Unlikely, for the same reasons and the fact that there is nothing that much really at stake to make consumers that interested in some kind of disestablishment crusade.  Ambush marketing on the other hand may divert some sales away from the official sponsors.  Which potential head of damage is greater?  This Kat has no idea but the canoeing is on in a minute so perhaps we'll never find out.  Go Team GB [plus Northern Ireland].
Does over-zealous enforcement of Olympic rights tarnish the games and the associated brands? Does over-zealous enforcement of Olympic rights tarnish the games and the associated brands? Reviewed by Robert Cumming on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. I agree wholeheartedly, while I am travelling to London to attend a few @%£M+°|! matches, I will be doing my utmost to avoid purchasing any of the officially branded paraphenalia.

  2. I was wondering, is Olympic Airways allowed to land in London?

    Or are they banned for the duration of the games due to flying the wrong colours.......?
    (NB: they do sell tickets for the period of the "*ç%&/ games, I tried....)

  3. I'm concerned about the Christmas song that includes the lines:

    6 geese a-laying
    5 **** *****
    4 colley birds, etc.

    Will we all be fined £20,000 for singing it?

  4. Absolutely spot on.

    Those at LOCOG (some of my friends included!) will argue that without the corporate dollars there would be no Games. I would argue that without the restraints that those dollars bring you would have a more inclusive, and therefore better, Games.

    From personal experience - confidentially between us of course.... - we have gone from budgeting to spend in the region of a million on the Games to spending not even a tenth of that. Because of the protections in place for official partners. That is a nonsense.

    I agree that partners should get some protection but London 2012 has gone far far too far!

    Still, really excited about the Games and very much looking forward to them!

  5. Well done Kat for daring to express the view that even those of us who make or have made a living from protecting IP can feel revolted by the excesses perpetrated in association with L****n 2**2. Being in my late sixties and thus able to remember when the "O-word thingy" was about sport, I had to agree with the commentator on a recent Telegraph article who coined the expression "pigfest of corporatism". I intend to boycott the present g***s by not watching them on TV. Correction: I will watch the opening ceremony since I could not possibly miss the first public performance of Monsoon Poultry Hospital!

  6. Olympic Airways would probably be able to rely on the exceptions set out in Schedule 4, para 6 ( no infringement by use of a Registered Trade Mark) and/or para 7 ( use of own name, assuming the coany has leagal personality and is therefoe a "person") in law.

    My son plays for the American Football team the "London Olympians". It was established nearly 40 years ago, and has been variously referred to colloquially as "The Olympians" or "The O's". I don't think they have had any bother from the Olympic committee. Presumably they also fall under the exemption of Schedule 4 para 7.

    When I was at junior school in the 1950's I remember being taught that the "Nelson touch" of turning a blind eye to minor transgressions was a typically British trait that was to be admired and emulated. I am afraid that this attitude no longer exists and common sense has gone out of the window.

  7. It does not seem to me that there is anything new or special about the legislation passed for the London Games. As I understand it, the kinds of provisions in the London Games Act have been required of host countries for some time, to meet obligations under the Olympic Charter.

    Obviously if you are in the UK right now, and you are the kind of person who lives and breathes IP, this might all seem very significant. But perhaps you just cannot see the forest for the trees.

    To put things in perspective, have you ever heard of the Sydney 2000 Games (Indicia and Images) Protection Act 1996? Under this Act, 'Games indicia' included 'any combination of the word "Games" and the number "2000" or the words "Two Thousand"', and 'any combination of "24th", "Twenty-Fourth" or "XXIVth" and the word "Olympics" or "Games"'. It also included 'any combination of a word in List A with a word, words, phrase or number in List B' -- I shan't bore you with the lists, but you get the idea.

    So does anyone remember the Sydney 2000 Olympcs resulting in tarnishing of the Games or the associated brands? Here in the 'host country' there was the usual rhetorical sabre-rattling about excessive commercialisation of the once-noble event. But then the games arrived, and everyone just had a good time.

    On 31 December 2000, the Act ceased, having caused nobody any significant harm.

    The Games cost a lot of money to put on, and we all get to watch for free. As a wise person once said, 'if you are not paying for the product, you are the product'. If this bothers you, just switch off. It will all be over soon enough!

  8. Today's Private Eye (a UK satirical magazine) pokes fun at the over-zealous enforcement in several places, including the front cover, so I don't think it's just IP experts who worry that things have gone over the top.

  9. Amongst my clientele of trademark clients, there is a pantheon of lesser Greek gods who are contemplating a class action against this brazen commercialization of noble nudism and sport.


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