The Olympic spirit

June 20, 2012 § 10 Comments

Once upon a time, a little knitting and crochet website called Ravelry ran a fun competition encouraging excellence in the fiber arts to coincide with that worldwide juggernaut of culture, education, and athleticism, the Olympics. Knitters and crocheters and spinners and weavers are all encouraged to park their rears on a comfy couch and tune into the games while crafting away. Advertisements are enjoyed, athletic feats are celebrated, and some good-natured ribbing of the rivals takes place too.

Then, one day, a very large organization sent a letter to the little fiber arts website so as to defend their trademark, which is normal practice. Admirably, it states that “the Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.” Not shockingly, many knitters support these values too. I mean, we can’t ALL be uncultured criminals hell-bent on war-mongering.

But wait! What should be a polite letter turns into a screed against the noble craft of knitting, doubly amusing considering the U.S. Olympic committee is headquartered in Colorado. Pro tip: it gets cold there. You might not want to insult people who could help you keep warm.

The esteemed Mr. Hirsch, law clerk, Office of the General Council, United States Olympic Committee, stated: “We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work” (bolding mine).

There’s only one person (well, ok, perhaps it’s the whole committee) failing to recognize others’ hard work. I guess since knitters aren’t Olympic material, considering all that denigration of athletes we knit into every stitch, our money isn’t Olympic material either. I’ve got $49.99 plus shipping and handling to spend, since I’m no longer purchasing the Team USA soccer jersey I wanted…looks like I can get that spinning wheel I wanted that much sooner.

And lest you think the U.S. Olympic Committee is alone in this sort of wacky behavior, check out the Woolsack debacle. No more Team UK jersey either for me.

(You can read the letter to Casey in full after the jump.)

Dear Mr. Forbes,

In March 14, 2011, my colleague, Carol Gross, corresponded with your attorney, Craig Selmach [sic], in regard to a pin listed as the “2010 Ravelympic Badge of Glory.”  At that time, she explained that the use of RAVELYMPIC infringed upon the USOC’s intellectual property rights, and you kindly removed the pin from the website.  I was hoping to close our file on this matter, but upon further review of your website, I found more infringing content.

By way of review, the USOC is a non-profit corporation chartered by Congress to coordinate, promote and govern all international amateur athletic activities in the United States.  The USOC therefore is responsible for training, entering and underwriting U.S. Teams in the Olympic Games.  Unlike the National Olympic Committees of many other countries, the USOC does not rely on federal funding to support all of its efforts.  Therefore, in order to fulfill our responsibilities without the need for federal funding, Congress granted the USOC the exclusive right to use and control the commercial use of the word OLYMPIC a and any simulation or combination thereof in the United States, as well as the OLYMPIC SYMBOL.  See the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. §220501 et seq. (the “Act”).  (A copy of the relevant portion of the Act is enclosed for your convenience.)  The Act prohibits the unauthorized use of the Olympic Symbol or the mark OLYMPIC and derivations thereof for any commercial purpose or for any competition, such as the one organized through your website.  See 36 U.S.C. §220506(c).  The USOC primarily relies on legitimate sponsorship fees and licensing revenues to support U.S. Olympic athletes and finance this country’s participation in the Olympic Games.  Other companies, like Nike and Ralph Lauren, have paid substantial sums for the right to use Olympic-related marks, and through their sponsorships support the U.S. Olympic Team.  Therefore, it is important that we restrict the use of Olympic marks and protect the rights of companies who financially support Team USA.

In addition to the protections of the Act discussed above, the USOC also owns numerous trademark registration that include the mark OLYMPIC. These marks therefore are protected under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051 et seq. Thus, Ravelry.com’s unauthorized use of the mark OLYMPIC or derivations thereof, such as RAVELYMPICS, may constitute trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of our famous trademarks.

The USOC would like to settle this matter on an amicable basis. However, we must request the following actions be taken.

1.  Changing the name of the event, the “Ravelympics.”;  The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them.  For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career.  Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes around the world together to compete in an event that has come to mean much more than just a competition between the world’s best athletes.  The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.

The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States.  Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect.  We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.

It looks as if this is the third time that the Ravelympics have been organized, each coinciding with an Olympic year (2008, 2010, and 2012).  The name Ravelympics is clearly derived from the terms “Ravelry” (the name of your website) and OLYMPICS, making RAVELYMPICS a simulation of the mark OLYMPIC tending to falsely suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement.  Thus, the use of RAVELYMPICS is prohibited by the Act.  Knowing this, we are sure that you can appreciate the need for you to re-name the event, to something like the Ravelry Games.

1.  Removal of Olympic Symbols in patterns, projects, etc.   As stated before, the USOC receives no funding from the government to support this country’s Olympic athletes.  The USOC relies upon official licensing and sponsorship fees to raise the funds necessary to fulfill its mission. Therefore, the USOC reserves use of Olympic terminology and trademarks to our official sponsors, suppliers and licensees.  The patterns and projects featuring the Olympic Symbol on Ravelry.com’s website are not licensed and therefore unauthorized.  The USOC respectfully asks that all such patterns and projects be removed from your site.

For your convenience, we have listed some of the patterns featuring Olympic trademarks.  However, this list should be viewed as illustrative rather than exhaustive.  The USOC requests that all patterns involving Olympic trademarks be removed from the website.  We further request that  you rename various patterns that may not feature Olympic trademarks in the design but improperly use Olympic in the pattern name.

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympics-rings-af…\

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/vancouver-2010-ol…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/2010-olympics-inu…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympic-swimmer-d…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/2008-olympic-ring…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympic-rings-nec…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/bode-miller-hat-2…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/usa-olympic-hat

http://www.ravelry.com/projects/belgianwaffleknit/usa-oly…

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.  We would appreciate a written reply to this letter by no later than June 19, 2012.  If you would like to discuss this matter directly, please feel free to contact me at the number above, or you may reach my colleague, Carol Gross.

Kindest Regards,

Brett Hirsch

Law Clerk

Office of the General Counsel

United States Olympic Committee

1 Olympic Plaza

Colorado Springs, CO 80909

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§ 10 Responses to The Olympic spirit

  • Evil knitters of the world unite to overthrow the Olympic ideals! (Can I use the ‘O’ word without paying some sort of licensing fee?)

    • kristina says:

      “Can I use the ‘O’ word without paying some sort of licensing fee?”

      Probably not! 🙂 Too bad it’s the athletes who really lose out.

  • Kathryn Rubidoux says:

    Reblogged this on Kathryn Rubidoux and commented:
    Injustice like this makes me ill. What Olympic spirit, filthy lucre is the name of the “games”.

    • kristina says:

      I used to enjoy the Olympics but USOC and LOCOG decisions have really soured me on the whole thing. I understand that USOC needs to make money to support the athletes, but it’s just really stupid to insult people who might buy your products that in turn support the athletes.

      Their attitude comes across as very demeaning towards us, as if we should be grateful to buy the sponsor products AND also donate knitted items too to “show our support.” Hmph!

      • Kathryn Rubidoux says:

        The whole thing is a farce. No one in their right mind would mistake “Ravelympics” for the actual Olympic games. Forcing a name change is just petty, if that lawyer is getting paid, he’s being paid far too much. I used to love the Olympics, however the rampant corruption that has surfaced again and again over the years caused me to lose total interest.

        • kristina says:

          He’s a summer intern, not even a lawyer yet! Probably an L2 (second year law student).

          Some Coloradan Ravelers mentioned that his supervisor(s) might get in trouble with the state bar, since it should really be a lawyer signing that sort of thing, but who knows if anything will come of it.

          Unfortunately due to some act of Congress they do have even more extensive rights to their trademarks than an ordinary trademark holder would. But yes, in a reasonable person’s mind, it’s quite obvious that Ravelympic is meant as a gentle wink in the direction of the real-thing-that-I-dare-not-mention!

  • Nicole says:

    When I griped about this on my Facebook, a well-meaning friend who apparently missed that I took a full semester of IP law at the Kennedy School attempted to gently edumacate me about why they “have to” do this. I nearly had an aneurysm. Defense of trademark is one thing (though I have serious issues with how a wealthy organization can restrict free speech without even bothering to sue, just by dint of sending C&D letters to non-monetized entities that don’t have the financial wherewithal to defend themselves in court. That’s really bothersome abuse of power, don’t you think?), but the tone of that letter was truly insulting. Reblogging this because you’re able to be rational and I love you for it. I’m still at WTF HULKSMASH LET’S YARNBOMB THEIR OFFICES!!!

    • kristina says:

      Ha, did you see their apologies? The first one was a disaster, and the second reeked of “please please still love us, this bad PR is hurting us!”

      I get that they have to defend their trademark, but the added bits? So not necessary to hold up the trademark in court. On further reflection the past day or so, I actually find it even more shocking that that sort of language (used against the former “Redneck Olympics” – via http://london2012.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/u-s-o-c-knits-a-controversy/ and a few other places) hadn’t come to light before.

      Even with the apology don’t think I’ll be participating by watching or purchasing. The whole charade has been extremely unpleasant, to say the least!

  • Nicole says:

    Reblogged this on Raveled and Reknit and commented:
    Reblogging the much more rational thoughts of a friend–I’m still too angry about this whole affair to write it for myself, and besides, she says it very well. When a corporation can restrict free speech by sending C&D letters to a non-monetized social network that lacks the wherewithal to defend itself in court, we are truly under the boot of moneyed interests. Olympic spirit, my ass. This isn’t how you celebrate the efforts of athletes, this is how you kiss up to sponsors. Deeply disappointing. But to denigrate knitters by suggesting that the Ravelympics somehow denigrates athletes? Hypocritical and plain mean. Read the letter for yourself. I’ll be back when this vein in my forehead stops throbbing.

  • […] personally am still rather disgruntled at the whole LOCOG and USOC debacles, but despite the bureaucratic bizarreness I have, in support of the talented athletes, knit a […]

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