The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia begin on Friday, February 7, 2014. 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 2014 Winter Paralympic Games, which begin on Friday, March 7, 2014.
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 reserve the use of these Olympic marks for official sponsors, partners, and suppliers that 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.
The Olympic committees control marketing rights with respect to Olympic emblems, marks, mascots, 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, broadcast stations should avoid using the terminology, emblems, and symbols associated with the following marks in marketing or promotions, whether on-air, in print, on websites, or otherwise:
A guide illustrating the Olympic and Paralympic marks released by the Sochi Organizing Committee is available here. Note that the Olympic committees’ rights do not preclude use of these marks for news reporting purposes, as discussed below.
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 seek to confirm that the advertisers have the rights to use Olympic trademarks. Information about official sponsors, partners, and suppliers can be found on “The Partners” page of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee official website. Particular caution should be used in accepting ads from local advertisers that reference the Winter Games to ensure that they have secured appropriate rights to use the Olympic trademarks.
The Olympic committees and their authorized agents are the only legal sources for the distribution of Olympic tickets. In the purchase of tickets for Olympic events, 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, without appropriate authorization 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 or a local advertiser.
The IOC holds property rights in the accounts and descriptions of the Olympic Games and sells the television and radio rights for the Games. As a result, as well as from the IOC’s 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. Moreover, tickets to Olympic events include a restriction that prohibits persons located within the event venue 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 may not report on the Olympic Games from the venue while an event is in progress.
Once an 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. A station may also report news of the events from publicly-available sources, such as wire services, while the event is underway. In the context of news reporting, use of Olympic trademarks are permitted; for example, the use of the phrase, “We’ll have highlights from the Olympics tonight at 11:00,” should not be deemed to infringe the 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 must obtain consent from the appropriate rights holder before broadcasting 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” concerning the athletic events, such as the scores and names of medalists, shortly after the event has ended, the First Amendment likely does not protect a station that broadcasts footage or more detailed accounts of an event without securing licensed rights to coverage of the event and, in particular, prior to its conclusion.
The IOC has developed and posted on the official Olympic website Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for Participants and Other Accredited Persons at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Accredited written and photographic press can freely utilize social media platforms for bona fidereporting purposes and are permitted to use the Olympic symbol for factual or editorial purposes. However, accredited persons should not use social media to create or imply an association with a third party or a third party’s products or services, as well as the Olympic Games or Olympic Movement without prior written approval from the IOC and/or the USOC. Accredited media personnel in Sochi should review these guidelines fully prior to arrival at the Games.
If you have any questions regarding the legality of broadcasts or marketing promotions relating to the Olympics, please contact your primary attorney in our office.