Takeaway: The U.S. Olympic Committee (“USOC”) has been sending warning messages to business for tweeting using hashtags #TeamUSA and #Rio2016—the legal conclusion of their liability, if any, is yet to be determined.
For decades, the USOC has been protecting its trademarks relating to the Olympic Games such as “Rio 2016” and “Sochi 2014,” as well as “Road to Rio” and “Road to Sydney.” Interestingly, because the location of the future games are not set in stone, the USOC had trademarks on “Houston 2012” and “Boston 2024,” even though the latter pulled its bid.
This year, a Minnesota carpet-cleaning company Zerorez filed a declaratory judgment against the USOC requesting that the line in the law regarding public discourse and social media conversations be drawn. The company received a cease and desist letter after sending a series of tweets with wishes to 11 Minnesotans representing the U.S. in Rio.
Some call this type of “marketing” “ambush marketing,” such that trending topics would allow free marketing of sorts. Under the Olympics’ Rule 40, non-official sponsors are not allowed to use Olympics-related words during the games. This is understandable, given that large corporations spend a lot of money in marketing to be considered the Games “official sponsors” and argue that non-official uses are diluting the brand.
However, the issue regarding hashtags is still one up for debate. While official sponsors would like to limit non-sponsored uses of Olympic-related online posts, Zerorez argues that they feel bullied because they “don’t want to pretend [they’re] Olympic sponsors, but [they] do want to be a part of the conversation.”