Tonight is the start of the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. For the next month, people will cheer and support their country’s athletes as they engage in physical feats that seem to defy human limitations. Many children watching in wonderment will imagine that someday they too could be Olympians. In all of this excitement, it is natural to engage in commentary about the Olympics on social media.
Any social media campaigns should be mindful of the relevant intellectual property rights of the organizers, the International Olympic Committee, United States Olympic Committee (“USOC”), the broadcast networks, reporters, athletes and others. For example, media clips, photographs and news articles are subject to copyright protection. The athletes themselves likely have right of publicity regarding use of their image (think Michael Jordan v. Jewel-Osco case). Moreover, several logos, words and phrases are subject to trademark protection.
The USOC is one entity that vigorously enforces its intellectual property portfolio. USOC owns a substantial number federally registered trademarks (e.g., logos, words and phases) including but not limited to OLYMPIC, LET THE GAMES BEGIN and TEAM USA. See www.teamusa.org/brand-usage-guidelines.
The USOC does not take kindly to infringement of its trademarks. In fact, the USOC has filed approximately 40 trademark infringement lawsuits since 1994.
To prevent unauthorized abuse, the USOC has developed brand usage guidelines that set forth the acceptable usage of the USOC trademarks. Regarding social media, according to the guidelines, the USOC supports individuals rights to:
- “Cheer for, send good luck to, or congratulate Team USA or other Olympic and Paralympic athletes on your personal social media accounts”
- “Talk about Team USA, the Games, or Games-related sports performances on your personal social media accounts”
- “Use hashtags that include USOC IP such as #OLYMPICS, #PYEONGCHANG2018, #TeamUSA, #GoForTheGold, or #GoTeamUSA on your personal social media accounts”
- “Post news and information about Team USA, the Games or Games-related sports performances from journalistic outlets’ social media accounts per the Editorial Use Guidelines below [See link above]”
Nevertheless, commercial uses, including using the above identified hashtags on corporate social media accounts, is not permitted. At first glance this policy might seem to date from Roman times. However, it is important to remember that trademarks are source identifiers. Use of the USOC trademarks implies a formal sponsorship or relationship between the USOC and the commercial user. The USOC earns a significant amount of revenue through corporate sponsorships, so, it is not hard to imagine why the USOC takes a hard line against unauthorized uses.
Thus, show your pride in your Olympians, but, avoid infringing the intellectual property rights of others.