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Law Column: Treading carefully around Olympic laws

It’s now less than three weeks until the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Already, many of the regional papers along the torch relay route have encountered some of the legal difficulties presented by strict regulations around Olympic branding and marketing.

I have a great deal of sympathy for Northern Echo editor Peter Barron who was quoted on HTFP yesterday under a headline which said it all – ‘Editor hits out over Olympic sponsorship red tape’. Unfortunately the press has no option but to operate as best it can within the tight parameters set by the Games legislation.

Parliament passed a number of laws to protect the commercial goodwill which attaches to the Olympics and Paralympics. These include the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act 1995 amongst others.

At the time the 2006 Act was passed, London Olympics boss Seb Coe said he was looking to create a “clean advertising environment”, and it is clear that the Organising Committee (LOCOG) intends to carry through on this promise by taking whatever legal action is necessary to protect the Olympic brands.

To state the obvious, the Games are an advertiser’s dream. Having goods or services associated with such sensational events can only work wonders for business.

But the organisers and ‘official partners’ have invested heavily to create the event, and the law aims to protect that investment and the value of licensing deals. Under the legislation, the use of words such as ‘Olympic(s)’, ‘Olympian(s)’, Paralympic(s), ‘London’, ‘Games’, ‘twenty twelve’, ‘gold’, ‘summer’, and so on, are all restricted.

There is an exemption in the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act 1995 in relation to use of the protected marks in purely editorial content. The advice produced by LOCOG states:

“There are very few instances where the Games’ Marks can be used without our consent. The words protected by the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 may, however, be used in editorial news pieces without our authorisation, and journalists are able to use our emblem etc to illustrate an editorial piece about the Games, provided in each case advertising is not integrated into the Games-related content (such as a sponsored column or supplement) without LOCOG’s consent.

This ‘editorial’ exception does not apply to businesses that produce newsletters, client bulletins or other marketing collateral.”

“The Sun” is seemingly making use of this exception by carrying the Olympic rings logo and a countdown to the start of the Games on the front page every day.

But as Peter Barron highlighted in his blog, an advertiser (and publisher carrying the advert) will infringe these rights if a ‘representation’ of any kind is used in the course of trade, in a manner likely to suggest to the public that there is an association between the London Olympics and particular goods or services.

This is why local businesses and papers carrying their adverts, must tread very carefully in designing adverts and layouts which maximise the Olympic fervour without over-stepping boundaries imposed by the legislation.

Papers’ advertising departments will have to be careful not to publish any adverts which use either protected words or logos. In particular, caution should be taken when running adverts alongside features relating to the Olympics – the advert must not create an association between the product or service advertised and the Games. Locog’s advice above specifically forbids sponsored supplements.

It may only be a small comfort but it is perhaps worth noting that it is not only local brands and businesses who are facing this challenge. In 2008 Nike ran a campaign timed to coincide with the official Olympic handover from Beijing to London. The print ads featured young British 2012 hopefuls training amidst scenes depicting building sites. The accompanying copy included phrases such as “coming home to compete in four years time”. There was no overt reference to the 2012 Games but the suggestion was clear.

Nike had to allude to the Olympics in such an indirect way because it is not an ‘official partner’; its competitor Adidas is.

Put simply, unless you’re an ‘official partner’, it’s unlawful to pass any business off as being officially linked with the Games. The trick, of course, for publishers and their advertisers is to know where to draw the line.

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  • July 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    haha! “Paper’s advertising departments will have to be careful…”

    Yeah, I was keeping up with it till that point.

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