Churches: Be Careful Using Olympic Trademarks

Churches: Be Careful Using Olympic Trademarks

August 8, 2016 by

The pageantry, passion and perspiration of the Olympic Games is officially upon us. The 2016 Rio Olympic Games began last week, and while the accompanying marketing is full swing, churches need to be careful about using official Olympic trademarks.

If you’re planning a sermon series, Olympic-related event or even just talking about the games, you need to be aware of how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is cracking down. They’re notorious for protecting their brand with extreme vigilance, but this year they’re even going after hashtags, retweets and GIFs.

Planning a sermon series, Olympic-related event or just tweeting the games? Be aware of the Olympic brand crackdown.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has even warned companies about using their official trademarked language:

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

Not so fast, says Zerorez, a carpet cleaning business in Minnesota. They’re suing to be able to tweet about the Olympics.

If this all sounds a little bizarre, you’re not wrong.

From the perspective of the IOC and USOC, this about stopping “ambush marketers” who want to jump on the hot conversations and sell their stuff, often competing with the official sponsors who shelled out big money to be associated with those hot conversations. The Olympics is trying to protect their product, but in doing so they’re being called a bully and trying to control an organic conversation that can’t be controlled. (Just watch Stephen Colbert skewer the whole thing with his fake “Tea Musa” brand and their promotion to find pictures of arms and legs—”a limb pic”—under bottle caps.)

So What Does This Mean for Churches?

For churches, this might sound reminiscent of the NFL’s crackdown in 2007. The league looked bad when they tried to stop churches from throwing Super Bowl parties. In the end, the NFL softened their stance but did insist that churches couldn’t charge for any Super Bowl events.

The case with the Olympics is likely similar, though policing hashtags and retweets is new territory.

Legal expert Andy Anderson weighs in, arguing that churches using Olympic language would have to be “likely to cause confusion” in order to be considered infringement:

“Though a more detailed analysis would be needed in each case, it seems unlikely that any ‘reasonably prudent consumer’ would confuse content from a church or an invitation to its Sunday gathering as an offering of the International Olympic Committee.”

Furthermore, Church Law & Tax editor Matthew Branaugh pointed out that churches are likely not the main focus:

“I suspect the IOC is preoccupied with commercial entities mostly, so nonprofits like churches will be less of a concern, assuming churches do not incorporate a commercial element to their activities (i.e., charging admission to an event-viewing party).”

So quick Olympic branding usage lessons for churches:

  • Avoid using copyrighted Olympics branding, including the Olympics name and official logo. Using the colored rings imagery costs companies big money, so don’t think you can use it for your sermon series.
  • If you hold any Olympics-related events or watching parties, don’t charge admission.
  • Even if you’re just talking about the Olympics on social media, make sure it’s clear that you’re just a spectator.
  • While we’ve quoted lawyers and legal experts in this piece, we’re not lawyers. Talk to a lawyer before you do anything.

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Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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