• Broadcast and Promotions Related to 2012 Olympic Games in London
  • May 14, 2012
  • Law Firm: Lerman Senter PLLC - Washington Office
  • The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England begin on Friday, July 27, 2012.  Because the Olympic organizing committees have in the past been quite vigilant in protecting the trademarks and copyrights associated with the Olympics, broadcast stations should be extremely careful not to use any materials that could infringe on these property rights, as outlined in the following general guidelines.  These concerns also apply to the use of trademarks and symbols relating to the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games, which begin on Wednesday, August 29, 2012.

    Use of Olympic Trademarks

    The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) control marketing rights with respect to Olympic terminology, emblems, symbols, and marks.  The Olympic Committees exploit their protected trademarks for revenue-generating purposes and reserve the use of these Olympic symbols for official sponsors, partners, and suppliers, which have made major investments in the Olympic programs.  The USOC and IOC vigorously protect and enforce their rights with regard to Olympic-related marks to preserve their value to the authorized licensees.

    Olympic Terminology, Emblems, Symbols, and Related Marks

    The Olympic Committees control marketing rights with respect to Olympic emblems, marks, symbols and terminology.  Without express written permission from the USOC or the IOC, respectively, it is unlawful to use their trademarks for any purpose, including in connection with the promotion or sale of products or services bearing those marks and the promotion of trade generally.  Although the following list is not exhaustive, broadcaster stations should avoid using the terminology, emblems, symbols, and related marks in marketing or promotions, whether on-air, in print, on websites, or otherwise:

    • “Olympic(s)”

    • “Olympiad”

    • “Paralympic(s)”

    • “Paralympiad”

    • Trademarks relating specifically to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, such as “London 2012” and the corresponding London 2012 Olympics’ logo.

    • Symbols such as the five interlocking Olympic rings and the 2012 Summer Olympic Game mascots and mascot names “Wenlock” and “Mandeville.”

    • “Inspire a Generation,” the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games motto

    • U.S. team names including “Team USA” and “Olympic Team USA”

    • Phrases such as “Let the Games Begin,” “Go (or Going) for the Gold,” “Rings of Gold,” “The Best of Us,” “Where the Olympic Journeys Begin,” and “Road to London.”

    Note that the Olympic Committees’ rights do not preclude use of these marks for news reporting purposes, as discussed below.

    Advertisements Produced by Third Parties

    Attempting to trade off of or otherwise benefit from an association with the Olympic Games in the minds of consumers through promotions and advertisements on behalf of a station and/or station clients mentioning the Olympic Games - referred to as “ambush marketing” - is a risky practice.  The USOC, IOC, and their official sponsors may have legal claims for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising and misappropriation of good will against parties which infringe upon sponsorship rights.  Although the use of a disclaimer, such as “not an official sponsor of the Olympic Games” may protect the potential infringer to an extent, the use of such disclaimers is not fail-safe.

    Before accepting or producing Olympic-related advertisements, broadcasters should make reasonable inquiries to confirm that the advertisers have the rights to use Olympic trademarks.  (Information about official sponsors, partners, and suppliers can be found on the sponsors and partners page of the official website of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games.)  Particular caution should be used in accepting ads from local advertisers that reference the Summer Games to ensure that they have secured appropriate rights to use the Olympic trademarks and be alert to possible ambush marketing, which can arise inadvertently, using Olympic terminology, emblems, symbols, and related marks.

    Unauthorized Distribution of Olympic Games Tickets

    The Olympic Committees and their authorized agents are the only legal sources for the distribution of Olympic tickets.  In the purchase of Olympic tickets, the purchaser agrees to all terms and conditions on the ticket request form, which include a prohibition on reselling or transferring the tickets and a prohibition on using the tickets for prizes and contest promotions.  Furthermore, tickets generally may not be used for advertising or promotional purposes unless specifically authorized by or on behalf of the Olympic Committees.  As a consequence, a station cannot conduct a promotion in which trips and/or tickets to the Olympic Games are awarded, even if the tickets were validly purchased by the station.

    News Reporting and Highlights

    The IOC holds property rights in the accounts and descriptions of the Olympic Games and sells the television and radio rights for the Games.  By reason of its creation of the Games, its control of the venues and its restriction of the dissemination of the news from those venues, the IOC has the right to control the use of information relating to the athletic events for a reasonable time following the completion of those events.  In addition, tickets to Olympic events generally include a restriction that prohibits persons located within the stadium from disseminating accounts of the sports event to the media without authorized press credentials.  Unless a station has applied for and obtained press credentials, it is not permitted to report on the Olympic Games from the venue while the event is in progress.  When the event has concluded, it is permissible to report the “news” of the event, such as the names of the medalists and scores of the event.  Of course, it is possible to report news of the events from publicly available sources such as wire services while the event is underway.  For news reporting purposes, it is also possible to refer Olympic trademarks in a news reporting context.  For example, use of the phrase “We’ll have highlights from the Olympics tonight at 11:00” should not be deemed to infringe trademarks of the Olympic Committees.

    Courts have held that the copyright owner of a telecast - in this case the IOC and its licensees - has a right to charge a fee for the use of highlights.  Therefore, stations need to obtain consent from the appropriate rights holder before using highlights of athletic events and the opening and closing ceremonies in station newscasts.

    The limited case law in this area indicates that although the First Amendment may allow the media to report news on athletic events, such as the scores and names of medalists, shortly after the event, the First Amendment likely does not protect a station that broadcasts footage or more detailed accounts of an event in violation of licensed rights to the event and, in particular, prior to its conclusion.