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Can Small Businesses Talk About the Olympics on Social Media?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 09, 2016 2:15 PM

Small businesses are always going to try and take advantage of world sporting events to boost their revenue or recognition. And the entities that put on those events will always try and protect their trademarks, allowing only official sponsors to use certain terms and images.

Just like FIFA with the World Cup, and the NFL with the Super Bowl, the United States Olympic Committee is extremely protective over the use of Olympic trademarks and terminology. Too protective? The USOC recently sent a letter warning businesses to "not create social media posts that are Olympic themed, that feature Olympic trademarks, that contain Games imagery or congratulate Olympic performance unless you are an official sponsor as specified in the Social Media Section." So how can your small business tweet and share the Games without breaking the law?

Olympic Rules

The USOC warning letter was aimed mostly at companies that sponsor athletes but are not official sponsors with the USOC or International Olympic Committee. "Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts," the USOC advised, "This restriction includes the use of USOC's trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA." Non-media companies also may not share or repost any content from official Olympic accounts, nor may they use any pictures taken at the Olympics.

These rules don't apply to individuals or the media, and are generally designed to keep athlete sponsors not sanctioned by the USOC from using the Olympics to boost their brand. "We need to give sponsors exclusivity to our intellectual property that is protected by U.S. law," USOC chief marketing officer Lisa Baird told ESPN.

Legal Restrictions

The law Baird was referencing is U.S. Code Chapter 2205, which specifically forms the USOC and grants it exclusive rights to everything from the five interlocking rings symbol of the IOC to the very word "Olympic." The statute also gives the USOC the power to sue anyone who uses the trademarked terms or images "without the consent of the corporation ... for the purpose of trade, to induce the sale of any goods or services."

So if your patriotic pride takes over and you simply say "Good job!" on Facebook, you may be OK. But as Baird warned, "a company that sells a sports drink certainly can't post something from the Games on their social media page or website. They're doing nothing but using the Olympics to sell their drink."

Before you post anything about the Olympics on your small businesses social media, you might want to run it by an experienced commercial attorney first. You can find one in your area today.

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