Hashtags, trademarks and the Rio Olympics

Olympic Hashtag Do's and Dont's

MINNEAPOLIS - The opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio is now just eight days away. But you may want to be careful about how you tweet, retweet and post about the games.

Apparently, the U.S. Olympic Committee is putting a vice-grip on any non-sponsor company that uses Olympic hashtags.

Did you know you can trademark a hashtag? For instance -- the U-S Olympic Committee has rights on the hashtags #RIO2016 and #TeamUSA.

The USOC also has trademarked the words and phrases "Olympic", "Olympian", "Team USA", "Future Olympian", "Going for the gold", "Go for the gold", and even "let the games begin."

While non-Olympic sponsoring businesses cannot use these logos or phrases without approval, the media can.

"They've taken it to a new height of ridiculousness," said Sally Bergesen, CEO and founder of women's running gear company, Oiselle, which has sponsored 800-meter runner Kate Grace for years.

When Oiselle posted pictures of Grace winning at the Olympic Trails, the company was contacted.

"We received a letter the day after she won the race basically from the USOC saying that we needed to remove all congratulatory messages, anything that referenced the Rio or the Olympics or the Summer Olympics and we couldn't share any of the pictures we took of Kate and it was really surprising and upsetting not only to us and to Kate," Bergesen said.

So instead of taking its posts down, Oiselle, just blurred out Olympic logos and used the term "Big Event in Brazil" instead. Even Grace's boyfriend blacked the word Olympics on his posts.

Attorney Brad Walz, of Winthrop and Weinstine, specializes in trademarks.

"It depends on the context in which that hashtag is being used," Walz said. "If a company that is not sponsoring the Olympics uses #GoforGold just to report on an event at the Olympics and makes no reference to its own products. I think the Olympic committee would have a hard time saying that that non-sponsoring entity cannot and is prohibited from making that type of a tweet."

That's exactly what the USOC is saying.

According to Olympic brand usage guidelines "…any use of USOC trademarks on a non-media company's website or social media site is viewed as commercial in nature and consequently is prohibited…"

"To make the blanket statement that these trademarks and hashtags can not be used, period, I think is a little bit overreaching," Walz said.

So be careful businesses -- hashtag Team USA -- is cracking down.


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