Five rings to rule them all - Olympics branding laws
Posted: 25 July 2012
Don’t break the law during this year’s significant London sporting event!
After seven years of waiting, the London Olympic Games are finally set to kick off this week, with the Paralympics following soon after.
The Olympics is the most significant event to hit the capital in some time, with athletes, sports enthusiasts, and media from across the globe set to descend upon the Big Smoke. With such a significant event on the horizon, equally significant changes to the law have been made, most of which appeared in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.
A lot of these laws are unlikely to affect the average punter – however, some of them have transformed seemingly innocuous acts into things that could get you in trouble.
The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006
Criticism of this act has become more vocal as the Games draw nearer, but resistance to the act goes back as far as 2005, before the act was passed and barely a month after London was awarded the games.
Much of the controversy regards the steps that have been taken to ensure that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) can have complete control over the branding of the Olympics, and the brands that associate themselves with the games.
Official sponsors have spent enormous amounts of money to associate themselves with the games (approximately £1.3bn of LOCOG’s funding has come from sponsorship, according to the Guardian) and, naturally, sponsors would be unhappy if other companies were able to associate themselves with the games without paying for it. Violating this law is punishable by a fine of up to £20,000.
This would mean, for example, that if Pepsi wanted to say that they were an approved part of the Olympics, Coca Cola would not be very happy. Prevention of association goes a lot further than this, however – the 2006 act specifies a list of terms that any organisation or individual who provides services is forbidden from using to market themselves. The terms are split into two categories thusly:
- Two Thousand and Twelve
- twenty twelve
Using a word in category 1 is prohibited in marketing when used in conjunction with another word in category 1, or a word in category 2. As such, using a combination of words such as “2012 Games” or a seemingly more innocuous combination like “Gold in Twenty Twelve” could land you in hot water if you advertise yourself or your brand with this phrasing.
On the other hand, a combination such as “London summer” would not necessarily get you in trouble, and that some discretion will likely be used. You should bear in mind that this is not a hard and fast rule – the broad nature of the 2006 act means that infringement can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
Logos and images associated with the games are also protected – this includes the iconic Olympic rings (which are owned by official sponsor Coca Cola) and the much maligned London 2012 logo and official font. This has led to some well publicised cases of LOCOG stamping out infringement, including an estate agent being made to take down Olympic rings made from plastic hoops.
The broad legislation of the 2006 act means that any commercial use of these protected terms and images is prohibited, so something as simple as writing “Watch London 2012 here” on a chalkboard outside a pub could put that pub in the firing line of LOCOG’s solicitors, especially if the chalkboard ad refers to a beverage that is not licensed by the games.
However, Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson may have given small and local businesses some leeway with regards to celebrating the Olympics last week, when he asked council trading standards officers to allow small bakers and the like to make Olympic themed cakes and buns, which will hopefully not anger the official sticky cake provider of the Olympic games.
For your further reference and understanding, LOCOG has produced an extensive Brand Protection document, which can be viewed here.