Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ravelry vs. USOC

Have you heard the uproar?  Yarn artist from around the world are up in arms and they are dropping their hooks, needles, and spinning wheels to take to social media.  I wouldn't have known if I hadn't gone looking for ideas for a crochet project for here.

When I went to bed last night I knew of nothing exciting in the world of yarn.  I have a Ravelry account, though I will admit I don't log in often.  So I was unaware of their Ravelrympics.  Today, that is a whole new story and I'm starting to wonder if that is why Twitter, the link will show you the tweets for the hashtag, has been having so many problems today.

Ravelry hosts a Olympic style games during the actual Olympics.  The concept is pretty simple, pick your events, then do the project while watching the corresponding Olympic event.  Then go back to your Ravely group and share.  Share how your project is going, talk about what you watched, ect.  To me, it seems like a win-win situation.  The ladies and gents get to push their yarn artistry skills and the Olympics get a bunch of viewers.  Well Team USA didn't see it that way.  They want a name change.  Here is the letter from Ravelry:

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,’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’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.
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

If this had just said something to the effect of "Hey you can't use Olympics or a form of it because it is trademarked.  Please change the name of your game and by the way these patterns are also in violation so could you get your users to change the name of them or remove them.  Thanks Brett."  I would have been with USOC,  I will stand behind someone who is in the right and trademark/copyright issues are something close to my heart.  Where USOC lost me was some of the personal comments made.  
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.
So knitting and crochet is disrespectful to the finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work?  Did I read that right?  They are saying that knitting a hat while watching the Olympics is just wrong.  I  know learning to knit or crochet is not the same as training for the Olympics but, with them saying we are disrespecting the athletes by doing this they are disrespecting us.
With all the outrage the Olympic Committee issued an apology:
Statement from USOC Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer Patrick Sandusky:
“Thanks to all of you who have posted, tweeted, emailed and called regarding the letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics.
Like you, we are extremely passionate about what we do. And, as  you may know, the United States Olympic Committee is a non-profit entity, and our Olympic team receives no government funding. We are totally dependent on our sponsors, who pay for the right to associate with the Olympic Movement, as well as our generous donors to bring Team USA to the Games.
The letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics was a standard-form cease and desist letter that explained why we need to protect our trademarks in legal terms. Rest assured, as an organization that has many passionate knitters, we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.
We apologize for any insult and appreciate your support. We embrace hand-crafted American goods as we currently have the Annin Flagmakers of New Jersey stitching a custom-made American flag to accompany our team to the Olympic Games in London. To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games.” 
Let me translate the apology for all of you.  "We are sorry we screwed up.  We need money from our sponsors to pay for all of this and we shouldn't have pissed off a group of needle welding women.  We like crafters our BFF is a crafter.  Please send us the crap, I mean really great stuff you make!  We didn't mean to insult you."
The apology sounds like more of a boiler plate than the first letter.  It's the kind of apology that is issued by celebs when they say things they shouldn't have.  "No I'm not _________ (what you are accused of), my organization is filled with________________(group you offended).  We work with ______________________ (specific group connected to those you offended).  
Sorry USOC but this knitter/crocheter does not accept your apology.  Brett insulted us in a non broiler plate desist letter and you Mr. Sandusky apologized with a broiler plate apology.

After posting my original blog post this came out.

"As a follow-up to our previous statement on this subject, we would again like to apologize to the members of the Ravelry community. While we stand by our obligation to protect the marks and terms associated with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements in the United States, we sincerely regret the use of insensitive terms in relation to the actions of a group that was clearly not intending to denigrate or disrespect the Olympic Movement. We hope you’ll accept this apology and continue to support the Olympic Games."

It seems they are starting to worry.  At this point it is still too little too late.  I'm not an idiot when it comes to PR.  What the USOC is doing now is trying to soothe the 2.2 million people that they upset.  They are running interference on Twitter, coming to people personally apologizing.  What they are really doing is damage control.  They have realized the reach that those 2.2 million people have and what they can do to ratings.  They are trying to keep us from not tuning in to the games.  Too late Mr. Sandusky, I'd probably be crocheting during the games and I don't want to insult anyone.
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