U.S. Olympic Committee Surrenders In Its War Against The Knitters

Yesterday, I wrote about the efforts of the United States Olympics Committee to stop an online knitting community called Ravelry, which was apparently far larger than they realized, from holding an event they called “Ravelympics” in connection with the upcoming Summer Olympics in London. Thanks in large part, I think, to the fact that the story had gotten picked up by Gawker, the USOC quickly found out it had bitten off a lot more than it could chew as public reaction to what they were doing seemed overwhelmingly negative, the USOC has backed off completely from their cease and desist demand:

In a statement posted online this afternoon, spokesman Patrick Sandusky says in part:

“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. …

“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.”

So, it would seem, the USOC’s plans to take legal action have unraveled.

So it would seem. And apparently it’s warning to us all, don’t get the knitters upset. After all, they have all those sharp, pointy objects.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Phillip says:

    … and the people rejoiced, and there was much ravelry.

  2. James H says:

    I’ve always thought sports ravelries are kind of destructive …

  3. Gromitt Gunn says:

    It probably wasn’t a good idea to piss off the athletes’ and trainers’ moms and aunts and grandmothers.

  4. James H says:

    Dissing the “Ravelympics” is mean-spirited, but part of me thinks the Olympic committee has a point when it comes to Olympic-themed knitting patterns. Shouldn’t those be made available only by an org that has been authorized to do so?

  5. Franklin says:

    Oh, it was just a standard cease-and-desist letter, no harm no foul, amirite?

    F**k the lawyers.

  6. Jeremy says:

    @Franklin:

    First thing we do, we kill all the lawyers.

    Except for Doug. He can be the jester.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    I still can’t figure out whether this was sparked by some eager-beaver young hotshot lawyer who didn’t think about the PR aspects, or was extension of existing policy. The problem is that genericide of a trademark is a very real risk if the term gets too broadly identified with an object/process rather than with a company. Which also means the closer one is to the edge of becoming generic, the more vigorously the mark needs to be defended to keep it going. Hence the over-the-top attacks in areas that make no sense to those outside trademark law: if you don’t defend, that inaction can be used against you. Plus, becoming generic is a basis for dissolving a trademark registration at any time.

  8. KariQ says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Given the USOC’s history of threatening anyone and everyone who tries to use the name Olympics, I’m sure no one considered threatening knitters and big deal. Certainly no bigger than any of the other dozens of similar letters they mailed out over the years. So mark me down as supporting the “existing policy” idea.

  9. PJ says:
  10. LucyRose says:

    Your pardon, but – while there were two attempts at apology, there is NOTHING in either that vacates the cease-and-desist request, folks. No backing off of anything they said except to the extent that it made folks mad. And to insult someone’s art then ask them to donate it to you is piling injury upon the original insult, and doesn’t really make much of an apology.

    This letter was ludicrous at the outset – it was a bit as if the Superbowl folks told people they can’t have “Superbowl” parties anymore, because it denigrates and insults the football players.

    Full disclosure here – I’m a Raveler, and a knitter/crocheter/fiber arts person. Funny thing, we aren’t all old ladies, nor even all women, just so you know. And guess what? I bet if somebody asks, there are likely a few Olympic athletes who knit…

  11. LucyRose says:

    @James H: Yes, that part of what they asked was reasonable. Had they not also insulted everyone AND shown they didn’t even know what the event was that they wanted renamed, they might have found themselves in less of a kerfuffle.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @LucyRose: A cease-and-desist letter doesn’t have the force of law. It’s simply the first chess move in the game. Usually what happens is a bunch of letters go back and forth, and then, if the brand owner doesn’t get what he wants, he goes to court and asks for a preliminary injunction. (TROs are also possible, but they usually are only for a few hours or days.) It’s only after the actual case goes to trial that you get to the permanent injunction stage.

    One question is: how far back was the “Ravelympics” term used? If the term was originally used several years ago, then the knitters have a damn good defense of laches.

    Actually, IANAL (yet) but would estimate that the trademark infringement case is pretty weak. The other possibility is bringing suit under the other statute Doug mentioned, and as far as I remember, there wasn’t anything mentioned about “similar” terms and bringing suit under a likeliness of confusion. (We’d have to look at the case law generated under the statute.) There’s a bloody great difference between actual copying (counterfeiting) and “similar but different.” And given how old the term “Olympics” is and how much it’s been used in history, the range of “infringing” trademarks under confusion (Lanham Act) is probably pretty narrow. In other words, someone who saw “Ravelympics” and thought it was associated with the Olympic Games is someone who probably shouldn’t be let outdoors without a leash.