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It’s a tradition now that stems back to the days of the early 2000s when the Yarn Harlot came up with the idea of starting an ambitious or challenging knitting project at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games and then pushing yourself to complete said project by the Closing Ceremony. Many many many of these projects required great tenacity and commitment to the task and very long days into the nights of knitting whilst watching the Games. And it became a thing – where knitters bonded with each other and their love of the Olympics – faster, stronger and higher and all that. There were badges of honour to win for those who completed their challenges and there was much bloggage.

This year, the fabulous (I mean seriously fabulous, other hobbies WANT a site like this) website Ravelry where knitters hang out, manage their projects and their stash, trade and sell and buy patterns and advice and hang out in the forums, was gearing up for this round of the Knitting Olympics with groups and teams being formed on the site for a group Ravelympics. I’d been getting together with my friend Sim to set up a Twefth Planet Press team

This morning, I discovered that the US Olympics Committee served Ravelry with this lawyer’s letter (taken from the Ravelry Forums and posted in full below, my emphasis in bold):

Dear Mr. Forbes,

In March 14, 2011, my colleague, Carol Gross, corresponded with your attorney, Craig Selmach [sic], in regard to a pin listed as the “2010 Ravelympic Badge of Glory.”  At that time, she explained that the use of RAVELYMPIC infringed upon the USOC’s intellectual property rights, and you kindly removed the pin from the website.  I was hoping to close our file on this matter, but upon further review of your website, I found more infringing content.

By way of review, the USOC is a non-profit corporation chartered by Congress to coordinate, promote and govern all international amateur athletic activities in the United States.  The USOC therefore is responsible for training, entering and underwriting U.S. Teams in the Olympic Games.  Unlike the National Olympic Committees of many other countries, the USOC does not rely on federal funding to support all of its efforts.  Therefore, in order to fulfill our responsibilities without the need for federal funding, Congress granted the USOC the exclusive right to use and control the commercial use of the word OLYMPIC a and any simulation or combination thereof in the United States, as well as the OLYMPIC SYMBOL.  See the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. §220501 et seq. (the “Act”).  (A copy of the relevant portion of the Act is enclosed for your convenience.)  The Act prohibits the unauthorized use of the Olympic Symbol or the mark OLYMPIC and derivations thereof for any commercial purpose or for any competition, such as the one organized through your website.  See 36 U.S.C. §220506(c).  The USOC primarily relies on legitimate sponsorship fees and licensing revenues to support U.S. Olympic athletes and finance this country’s participation in the Olympic Games.  Other companies, like Nike and Ralph Lauren, have paid substantial sums for the right to use Olympic-related marks, and through their sponsorships support the U.S. Olympic Team.  Therefore, it is important that we restrict the use of Olympic marks and protect the rights of companies who financially support Team USA.

In addition to the protections of the Act discussed above, the USOC also owns numerous trademark registration that include the mark OLYMPIC. These marks therefore are protected under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051 et seq. Thus, Ravelry.com’s unauthorized use of the mark OLYMPIC or derivations thereof, such as RAVELYMPICS, may constitute trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of our famous trademarks.

The USOC would like to settle this matter on an amicable basis. However, we must request the following actions be taken.

1.  Changing the name of the event, the “Ravelympics.”;  The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them.  For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career.  Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes around the world together to compete in an event that has come to mean much more than just a competition between the world’s best athletes.  The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.

The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States.  Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect.  We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.

It looks as if this is the third time that the Ravelympics have been organized, each coinciding with an Olympic year (2008, 2010, and 2012).  The name Ravelympics is clearly derived from the terms “Ravelry” (the name of your website) and OLYMPICS, making RAVELYMPICS a simulation of the mark OLYMPIC tending to falsely suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement.  Thus, the use of RAVELYMPICS is prohibited by the Act.  Knowing this, we are sure that you can appreciate the need for you to re-name the event, to something like the Ravelry Games.

1.  Removal of Olympic Symbols in patterns, projects, etc.   As stated before, the USOC receives no funding from the government to support this country’s Olympic athletes.  The USOC relies upon official licensing and sponsorship fees to raise the funds necessary to fulfill its mission. Therefore, the USOC reserves use of Olympic terminology and trademarks to our official sponsors, suppliers and licensees.  The patterns and projects featuring the Olympic Symbol on Ravelry.com’s website are not licensed and therefore unauthorized.  The USOC respectfully asks that all such patterns and projects be removed from your site.

For your convenience, we have listed some of the patterns featuring Olympic trademarks.  However, this list should be viewed as illustrative rather than exhaustive.  The USOC requests that all patterns involving Olympic trademarks be removed from the website.  We further request that  you rename various patterns that may not feature Olympic trademarks in the design but improperly use Olympic in the pattern name.

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympics-rings-af…\

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/vancouver-2010-ol…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/2010-olympics-inu…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympic-swimmer-d…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/2008-olympic-ring…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympic-rings-nec…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/bode-miller-hat-2…

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/usa-olympic-hat

http://www.ravelry.com/projects/belgianwaffleknit/usa-oly…

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.  We would appreciate a written reply to this letter by no later than June 19, 2012.  If you would like to discuss this matter directly, please feel free to contact me at the number above, or you may reach my colleague, Carol Gross.

Kindest Regards,

Brett Hirsch

Law Clerk

Office of the General Counsel

United States Olympic Committee

1 Olympic Plaza

Colorado Springs, CO 80909

 

Now, knitters are a mobilised and technosavvy bunch of people – there are 2 million users on the Ravelry website for example. So I have no doubt they will act in an interesting and powerful way. What I do find quite fascinating is the bits I have embolded. In one written letter response I read this morning, a knitter commented that the USOC could have just issued a trademark infringement. Nothing about this letter or their request would have been altered.

But instead of that, they felt the need to go that step further and belittle the activity and I think knitters everywhere. And I wonder whether they would have seen that as quite as necessary had the activity not been a stereotypically female one. If it were a drinking and dart board competition, for example, I wonder whether the word “denigrate” would really have come up.

And looking at the “true nature of the Olympic Games” of “ideals that go beyond sport to encompassa culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony” that, by the way, are not owned by the USOC, let’s see. The Knitting Olympics is a shared focus where knitters from all over the world come together in one place (online), at one time of the year to participate in or to support from the sidelines as others challenge themselves. Knitters exchange patterns and techniques, skills and advice. It crosses language and culture – just take a look at Fair Isle or Japanese patterns that English speakers follow the graphs instead of the written directions. It becomes a means to meet new people and build new friendships. And um, sorry but I can’t remember ever seeing knitters behave in ways that were not tolerant or respectful. Knitting provides comfort and warmth. And many many knitters will gift or donate the product of their efforts.

I’m sorry,  but just what about that *is not* in the Olympics Spirit? Cause if it’s not this, then I’ll cancel my Foxtel Olympics special subscription and go do something else next month.

I’ve never actually successfully finished my Knitting Olympics project before. It turns out, if you’re still working full time over the Games, two weeks is not enough time to reasonably finish a sweater. But, you know, now I’m fired up, I think I might just knit myself something. And maybe with those trademark rings.

Knitters might mostly be women, USOC, but I wouldn’t want to piss off people who know how to wield sharp pointy sticks.



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3 Comments

  • By Sean the Bookonaut on 22 June 2012 at 5:12 pm

    We know who is making a mockery of the Olympics and it isn’t those with the needles (knitting ones).

  • By AlisaK on 22 June 2012 at 9:42 pm

    It’s sad and a shame

  • By Helen on 24 June 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I understand the need to protect trademarks but the language used in the letter was downright insulting – and the apologies were less than satisfactory. No wonder people are upset.

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