August 10, 2011

Who Owns "Olympics"?

Marc Comtois

I was 10 minutes away from the Redneck Olympics over the weekend (couldn't make it, though). Sounds like about what you'd expect:

In the Tire Beer Trot, contestants ran through two rows of tires with a cup of beer in each hand. Some tripped over the tires. Some made it to the end, where a judge made sure they didn't spill much, which was a disqualification.

If they didn't spill it, they drank one whole cup and ran through the tires again. The first to finish their second beer afterward was the winner. Only 16 were chosen by lottery to play. As they played, Billy Currington's “I'm Pretty Good at Drinking Beer” and George Thorogood's “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer” roared over the loudspeakers.

Near the end, Jeff St. Amand of L-A Music Factory, master of ceremonies for the event, announced that they had a problem. They were out of Budweiser cans for contestants to drink down. Luckily, someone happened by with a few extra cans.

Sounds fun. Rednecks know how to party and laugh at themselves, after all. But the humorless U.S. Olympic Committee isn't laughing.
The Redneck Olympics are facing a legal challenge from the United States Olympic Committee, according to organizer Harold Brooks.

Brooks said he received a phone call Monday from a legal office of the USOC, telling him he needs to change the name of his event in the future or face a lawsuit.

He was told the word “Olympics” is the property of the Olympic Committee. Brooks said it's a case of large group bullying a small businessman.

“I said, 'I'm not basing it on your Olympics, I'm basing it on the Olympics in Greece"...The Olympics has been around for thousands of years.'

It wouldn't be the first time the USOC has threatened to sue someone for using the word “Olympics” in a name. Under the U.S. Amateur Sports Act of 1978, the committee has exclusive rights to the name in the U.S.

A Minnesota band called “The Olympic Hopefuls” was forced to change its name to “The Hopefuls” in 2009. In 1982, an athletic event called the “Gay Olympics” changed its name to the “Gay Games” when the committee threatened a lawsuit.

According to the Special Olympics website, the USOC gave special permission for the Special Olympics to use the word in 1971.

The thing is, there may be no more stubborn entity than a Maine Yankee.
Brooks said he has no plan to change the name. “People told me this is the only Olympics they'll ever go to,” he said. Most of his guests couldn't afford to fly to the real Olympics, he said, and he said no one would ever confuse the two events.

“I'm going to refuse to not use that word,” he said.

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It's not a question of humor. It's a question of defending your trademark. If you fail to defend the trademark, you can lose it. Although in this case, my guess is there is no infringement because it's being used as parody.

In the case of a trademark registration, failure to actively use the mark in the lawful course of trade, or to enforce the registration in the event of infringement, may also expose the registration itself to become liable for an application for the removal from the register after a certain period of time on the grounds of "non-use".

And I thought you righties were supposed to be the business experts!

Posted by: Russ at August 10, 2011 3:50 PM

In the case of the Olympic trademark, the IOC would have to prove that the name Redneck Olympics suggested a connection to or a sanctioning by the IOC. Apparently only Russ is willing to make that leap.

Posted by: Max Diesel at August 10, 2011 4:34 PM

Listening to Russ explain law is almost as as amusing as listening to Crowley explain economics.

I thought good progressives were supposed to defer to the "experts" on everything.

Posted by: Dan at August 10, 2011 5:33 PM

"It's not a question of humor. It's a question of defending your trademark. If you fail to defend the trademark, you can lose it."

True, but let's think it over. The term "olympics" has been around for 2400 years ago. If the committee has a "trademark", it is by act of Congress. Gogress passed a special law granting the USOC the exclusive right to use the term. Why do I suspect lobbyists, etc? If memory serves, there is more than just a little corruption in the USOC selection of cities to host the games.

Being from a part of America where they abound, I like rednecks. I have every respect for bio-chemsts. But, I was in a scrapyard today; while the owner does play chess at lunch, I am sure he considers himself a redneck. Anyway, his crane broke a link. After shuffling around a bit, he picked up some scrap metal and a torch. He then proceeded to make himself a new link. There is something admirable in that. He is also paying about $225 a ton for scarp. I think about $1500 in happy campers left after he got the crane fixed.

He also sold me some cast iron legs for my lathe, I suppose I should roll my collar up a bit.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 10, 2011 5:43 PM

"Listening to Russ explain law is almost as as amusing as listening to Crowley explain economics."

Hey, just telling you what my attorneys told me. How may trademarks have you experts registered anyway? Do tell.

And, Dan, as always you are welcome to ignore the advice of experts. (what was that they say about a man who acts as his own lawyer?)

Posted by: Russ at August 11, 2011 9:43 AM
True, but let's think it over. The term "olympics" has been around for 2400 years ago.

So has the word "apple", even longer than 2400 years I suppose, but I wouldn't suggest you try to incorportate under Apple RI, Inc. unless you like receiving nasty letters from attorneys.

Posted by: Russ at August 11, 2011 11:03 AM


As I mentioned, the USOC has exclusive use of the word "Olympics", by act of Congress, not by trademark registration. That in itself "smells". I don't think it correlates directly with the law of trademarks.

As to your example of Apple, I suspect that trademark may be on the bitten apple logo (which sugggests they couldn't get a trademark on a logo of a whole apple), not the word Apple. Do you think "Wonder Bread" has a trademark on "bread"? Think about it, do you think an apple farm would be in trouble if it called itself "RI Apple". Do you think "Apple computer" gives Apple any rights in the word "computer"?

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 11, 2011 12:37 PM

A further note, since the USOC has exclusive rights to a word by act of Congress, it probably has better rights than trademark registration. I suspect it was not possible to trademark a word in common usage. So, they made an end run. I am not sure that I can see the "righteousness' on that one. I think they bought, or cajoled, Congress.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at August 11, 2011 12:43 PM


What you have here at AR is a kind of Special Olympics for lawyers and economists.

Posted by: Phil at August 11, 2011 8:20 PM
Do you think "Apple computer" gives Apple any rights in the word "computer"?

I was thinking specifically of this from a few years back...

Between 1978 and 2006 there were a number of legal disputes between Apple Corps (owned by The Beatles) and the computer manufacturer Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) over competing trademark rights. The High Court of Justice handed down a judgment on 8 May 2006 in favour of Apple Computer, but the companies did not announce a final settlement until 5 February 2007.
Posted by: Russ at August 12, 2011 3:51 PM

I was thinking yesterday how it's kind of funny for the local leftie to be accused of too ardent a support for property rights. Max, if you look above my personal take was that Redneck Olympics should not be considered an infringement because of the protection in the law for parody.

Personally, I don't see why a business like Olympic Pizza or Olympic Meat Packing should be considered an infringement, but was WF correctly noted that's what Congress legislated.

Posted by: Russ at August 12, 2011 4:30 PM

Russ, you said: "It's not a question of humor. It's a question of defending your trademark. If you fail to defend the trademark, you can lose it."

I didn't deny your application of parody. I merely pointed out that even before the your parody defense, the Olympic Committee would have a tough time establishing a case against the Redneck Olympics. The rest of my comment was just a little tit for tat.

Posted by: Max Diesel at August 13, 2011 9:13 AM
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