The USOC Takes The Gold Medal In $mug Entitlement

Law, Politics & Current Events

One of my favorite scenes in Chariots of Fire comes when the pre-Bilbo Ian Holm, playing trainer Sam Mussabini, waits for the results of the 100 meter race at the 1924 Paris Olympics. He waits in his modest hotel room, because as a "professional" he is not allowed to be at the track with his pupil, the runner Harold Abrahams. When he hears the distant strains of God Save the Queen, he realizes that Harold has won, and is so overcome with unfamiliar emotion that he ruins his hat.

In Chariots of Fire the anti-professional and pro-amateur sentiment of the time is treated as a signifier of class snobbery and even bigotry. But I wonder if now, 31 years later, its makers would frame the issue the same way. I suspect not.

Chariots of Fire celebrates character, and determination, and effort, and raw athleticism. All of those qualities still exist at the Olympics — on the field, amongst athletes. But there is a gulf between the field of Olympic effort and the Olympic brand — the pomp, the interlocking rings, the familiar music, the wall-to-wall coverage, the merchandise, the hype. The Olympic brand is about athleticism only in the sense that iTunes is about music: it is a vehicle for monetizing it.

Why The Hell Are There Twenty Emails About Knitting In My Inbox?

I bring this up because of the recent behavior of the United States Olympic Committee. That behavior came to my attention when I received a deluge of emails and tweets from knitting enthusiasts who most likely had heard of me through the Regretsy episode. They told me about a cease-and-desist letter the USOC sent to Ravelry, a site for knitting and crocheting enthusiasts. The USOC confronted Ravelry over a planned event called the Ravelympics, a communal knitting competition and event scheduled to coincide with the London Summer Olympics.

The issue was not merely that the USOC was demanding that Ravelry cease and desist using the term 'Ravelympics" and remove the Olympic five-ringed symbol from all projects. The issue was that the USOC (which in its wisdom had tasked a law clerk to write a threatening letter to an organization with two million members) displayed such Olympian hubris about the whole thing:

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.

Now, I don't know whether the USOC's law clerk came up with that language himself, or whether the USOC's word processor has a macro entitled DOUCHIFY. But that's some seriously DSM-IV-level narcissism there, not to mention catastrophic lack of social skills. I can't blame the law clerk — it's the USOC's fault for failure to supervise him. Law clerks don't have the sense God gave a handful of gravel. Adults are supposed to take them by the hand and make sure they doesn't send letters like that. Protip, USOC: if your cease-and-desist-letter methodology resembles that of Girls Gone Wild jailbird Joe Francis, you may want to rethink it.

Who Deserves Respect, Again?

The people of Ravelry were understandably incensed at the suggestion that association with them and their craft was somehow denigrating to the Olympics. Denigrating to them? Really? Isn't it the other way around? After all, Ravelry does not suck up to tyranny. Ravelry's knitting events do not require their own anti-doping agency. Ravelry's knitting events are located online, not assigned to the cities most skillful at bribery. Ravelry does not demand taxpayer-subsidized facilities based on specious promises of economic prosperity. Ravelry's knitting competitors will not be chased by paparazzi hoping to catch them huffing from giant knitted bongs. Their competitors will not orchestrate crowbar attacks on rivals and retreat into sad careers of ineffectual celebrity boxing, leaving their opponents to snipe at outsized rodents. Ravelry will probably not suffer judging scandals. And if you want to observe the Ravelympics, you can just click on the part you want to see; you don't have to sit through hours of crap to see the one event you were interested in at 10:30 at night.

Yes, Ravelry and its supporters have not a damned thing to be ashamed of. They represent the best that the internet has to offer: disparate and geographically distant people with similar non-felonious interests coming together to share ideas and enjoy each other's company. I haven't actually visited any pages on Ravelry — it requires a login, apparently to protect crucial yarn-related proprietary data — but I like to imagine it as a page of peace and harmony. If it's like everyplace else on the internet, cluttered with stupid cat pictures and arguments about whether forum moderation policies are reminiscent of Nazi Germany, I do hope you'll have the common courtesy to keep your mouths shut about it.

The Government-Granted Golden Goose

Sadly, the fans of the Ravelympics probably came to the wrong person when they wrote me. I'd be happy to try to find Ravelry a good lawyer, but it will have to be someone else. This requires specialized trademark experience — like that of Ron Coleman (who has written about Olympic trademark issues) or Marc Randazza. I know just enough to suspect that Ravelry is very likely out of luck here. The Olympic brand gets strong protection so long as there is any whiff of commercial activity or athletic or theatrical promotion (as there is here, given that Ravelry apparently hosts some Olympic-themed knitting patterns for sale by their designers.) Congress has decreed that the USOC need not even prove that other uses of Olympic are potentially confusing. The USOC has not hesitated to exercise its broad Congressional mandate. It ruthlessly pursued the Gay Olympics, showing a level of fastidiousness that seems odd in promoting an event that began with naked Greek men wrestling. That led the Supreme Court to give rather short shrift to the First Amendment rights of those who might use Olympian wordplay in promoting events:

The [Gay Olympics'] expressive use of the word cannot be divorced from the value the USOC's efforts have given to it. The mere fact that the [Gay Olympics] claims an expressive, as opposed to a purely commercial, purpose does not give it a First Amendment right to "appropriat[e] to itself the harvest of those who have sown." . . . . The USOC's right to prohibit use of the word "Olympic" in the promotion of athletic events is at the core of its legitimate property right.

So. The United States, in its infinite wisdom, has elected to give the USOC a monopoly on the Olympic brand — which, as the USOC's letter indicates, they will protect as one protects any money-making asset:

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.

The United States believes (probably correctly) that even though the Olympics are increasingly about astonishing amounts of money — so much so that athletes will change nationalities to get it — that Americans will tolerate this arrangement out of sentiment and tradition, as they do with the baseball monopoly. But do not be fooled by their slick advertising campaign trying to promote themselves as humble supporters of amateur achievement: the USOC, though non-profit, is the gatekeeper to inestimable wealth — both for select athletes (who can leverage gold and silver into endorsement millions) and the merchandizers and media who buy licenses from the USOC. It's "culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony" — brought to you by Coca-Cola and McDonald's, Dow Chemical and Visa, Samsung and P&G. Exxon didn't make the cut this year, I think.

As I good small-l libertarian, I have no quarrel with commerce; I just prefer that it not come slathered and dripping with the oily pretense I see in the USOC's letter, as well as in its unconvincing apology.

I suspect Ravelry will have to back down and rebrand. But is that really such a bad thing? The athletes of the Olympics stand for dedication and ability, but the brand of the Olympics stands for marketing. The brand of the Olympics is about incessant product placement and about pre-event hype of chosen conflict narratives designed to sell airtime and about chosen heroes promoted based on demographic analysis and about awful new mascots and about merchandise, everywhere the merchandise. Why not go back to basics? The USOC doesn't have — at least not yet — government monopolies on all athletic imagery. How about a Deknittathon? Use your powerful and vibrant community to come together and choose ideas that resonate more of athletics than the selling thereof. Unless, of course, you'd like to take the defiant and satirical route:

Graphic Courtesy of Lola By the Bay

Last 5 posts by Ken White

65 Comments

61 Comments

  1. Chris R.  •  Jun 22, 2012 @12:05 am

    I was schooled hard by this article. I am also now a little sad inside as something that was once so beautiful to me as a child is tainted. Apparently the USOC > Charles Carreon in douchery. Go figure.

  2. Heather Nordquist  •  Jun 22, 2012 @2:23 am

    What a great article!! I watched with amazement as the knitting community went wild. I will admit to having a little too much fun. The "games formerly known as the rav*****cs" will most certainly proceed under a new name. The name was never the issue. The douchification of the C&D letter was. Love the new word, BTW.
    An American Knitter in Austria

  3. resonanteye  •  Jun 22, 2012 @2:31 am

    okay then. I will knit while NOT WATCHING the Olympics.

    let's see how they like them apples.

  4. Rachel S  •  Jun 22, 2012 @2:39 am

    As one of the crafters involved in this debacle, I wanted to say thank you for offering your input.

    I wish we could blame the law clerk for the wording of the letter, but it seems that this really is their cease & desist form letter. That, or he reused the one they used for the "Redneck Olympics" (http://m.sunjournal.com/oxford-hills/story/1074430)
    Somehow, that doesn't make me feel any better about the whole thing…

    Anyways, your point about the rebranding is actually a good one. After this, I really have no desire to watch the Olympics this year (the Ravelympics were the only reason I was originally going to do so) and, really, I don't see any of us wanting to associate ourselves with this level of…. I'm not even sure what to call it.

  5. Andy S  •  Jun 22, 2012 @2:49 am

    It's not just the USOC, by any means; much the same sort of thing is going on this side of the pond, too. I hope nobody was planning on advertising any games this summer, for example…

  6. cathybean  •  Jun 22, 2012 @2:52 am

    my husband actually emailed that Charles Carreon and told him a couple of things. Charles response was stupid in my opinion. I can't share it here or else I could be sued or so the email says.

  7. nathan  •  Jun 22, 2012 @3:46 am

    I very much doubt he heard 'God Save the /Queen/' in 1924 :)

  8. Karin Schroff  •  Jun 22, 2012 @3:48 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I can understand they have to protect their trademark and can even see why Ravelympics might be an issue. We are currently having fun coming up with our own versions of alternative names.

    For me the irritating thing was the "denigrate". I do not think that what I do is in any way the same as what those athletes go through to get to the Olympics, but I am challenging myself and having fun, so how is that denigrate the athletes' effort?

    Off my soap box and thank you again for picking up on this.

  9. Brooke  •  Jun 22, 2012 @4:01 am

    Brilliantly said.
    I don't think many "Ravelers" took issue with removing copyright infringement, however broadly defined. Things didn't get really hot until the "apology." We're sharp-witted, as well as armed with fiber tools.
    But you are now the proud author of my favorite phrase associated with this debacle.
    " Law clerks don't have the sense God gave a handful of gravel."
    Words to live by, indeed.

  10. Clark  •  Jun 22, 2012 @4:04 am

    Back in middle school I was in a Gifted and Talented program (fooled them, eh?). We competed every year in "The Olympics of the Mind". But then… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odyssey_of_the_Mind#Other_Information

  11. shg  •  Jun 22, 2012 @4:05 am

    Having a bit of background info into the OSOC, its financial issues and responsibilities, and the rationale behind its defense of its brand, there's another side to this story that may put it in better perspective. The USOC finances many sports that are dead broke. These are sports that don't generate huge public interest or get TV deals, but involve thousands of amateur athletes (because no one will pay them to play) who aspire to be in the Olympics.

    Somebody has to keep these sports going, and the USOC contributes significant sums to maintain these sports throughout the four year cycle until the next Olympics. It is a complete drain, as no money returns. And there are far more sports in the Olympics that are non-revenue producing than big money sports. We don't think of them because they aren't on primetime network TV. These are the sports shown in the middle of the night, if at all. But the athlete who do them still work for years to be the best.

    So the USOC has to raise money where it can to spend money to keep these non-revenue producing sports alive. It's not that they're trying to raise money on the back of knitters, but if they close their eyes to knitters, what happens to the trademark violation claim when it's Joe Francis and he points out that they let the knitters slide? Being kind creates a precedent that bites one in the butt.

    So the USOC is left in the unenviable position of defending the brand against knitters or losing it to Joe Francis' Olympics Gone Wild. Or saying good-bye to amateur sports and the development and training of thousands of athletes whose sports don't raise enough revenue through spectators and merchandise to support Olympic level competition. We could have a US Olympic team made up solely of professionals playing the common spectator sports, but we would be unable to finance development of teams in all the "unknown" sports that reflect what the Olympics used to be all about.

  12. Samsam von Virginia  •  Jun 22, 2012 @4:31 am

    So, when can we expect the O****ic committee to bring suit against the IAU (International Astronomical Union)? The IAU is, after all, responsible for naming Mount Olympus on the planet Mars.

  13. Quantum Mechanic  •  Jun 22, 2012 @4:34 am

    shg — as I recall, it's only unchallenged, unauthorized use of trademarks than can result in losing them. A trademark holder can choose to license someone to use their mark, even for free, without causing any damage to the ability to enforce the mark against others. It's somewhat analogous to adverse possession of real property.

  14. plutosdad  •  Jun 22, 2012 @5:24 am

    I think the worst abuse was against Improv Olympic in Chicago. This theater (now called IO Theatre) had a school run by Del Close, who trained almost every famous comedian in the 80s and 90s. Everyone you've seen in movies went through his school, everyone that had gone through the Chicago/Second City comedy circuit went to him at Improv Olympic. It had reached the point of being a venerable institution in the entertainment world. Not wealthy, just well known and authoritative (as much as anything is authoritative in improv)

    Of course the Olympic committee sent letter after letter until finally they broke down and changed the name.

  15. Stori Lundi  •  Jun 22, 2012 @5:35 am

    Shg – While we all can understand the USOC wanting to protect their trademarks, they completely screwed the pooch with their insulting remarks. Us Ravelers aren't just a bunch of grannies cranking out loudly colored afghans while watching soap operas every day, ya know. The USOC missed a huge opportunity to reach out to 2 million knitters, crocheters, and other fiber artists, who have donated thousands of handmade items to the athletes of the Paraolympics(tm) and their families. Ravelers have also raised millions of dollars for various charity events around the world. A prime example, the Yarn Harlot alone has raised over $1,000,000,000 in the past 7 or so years for her charity for Médecins Sans Frontières. Many of those 2 million fiber artists are also athletes and would have welcomed a chance to help out those under-served sports and the Olympics(tm) in general. I myself am a horseback rider and compete in dressage so I understand the expense and the struggles of the USET with keeping the equestrian games alive. But the USOC chose to completely dismiss all of us and protect their corporate sponsors instead of the poeple who actually buy their products and support their athletes.

  16. bill quoted  •  Jun 22, 2012 @5:52 am

    USOC in 1994:

    THEODOROS VATZAKAS, WHO IS a Greek native, has owned the 88-seat Olympic Restaurant and Pizza in Norcross, Ga., for 10 years. But now, the U.S. Olympic Committee's lawyers complain he is violating the organization's trademark. So Vatzakas is grudgingly changing the name to Olympia Restaurant and Pizza.

  17. Luke  •  Jun 22, 2012 @6:08 am

    @shg – I understand the need for them to protect their trademark, the issue I and others in the comments have is the tone and usage of the word 'denigrate' and saying that 'Ravelympics' is disrespectful of US athletes. At that point it went from mere trademark protection to being an asshat.

  18. Maggie McNeill  •  Jun 22, 2012 @6:35 am

    1) I've always thought it was a bit bizarre that a US organization is able to trademark the name of an international event which was first held in a foreign country by people whose original trademark, if any, lapsed around 700 BC. The only entity which should rightfully be able to claim a trademark on the word "Olympics" would be the god Zeus, in whose name the games were originally held.

    2) Anti-professional and pro-amateur sentiments are still popular and are still signifiers of class snobbery and bigotry, but only in a field which involves wrestling with naked women. In every other modern area, "amateur" is pretty much an insult and "professional" a sort of compliment; only in sex is it the opposite.

  19. Cythraul  •  Jun 22, 2012 @6:46 am

    Huh. It was always my understanding that an undefended trademark legally devolves into *no* trademark.

    And given that "Olympics" referred to an international athletic competition a good 2500 years before the founding of the United States, I would have expected the trademark comes pre-devolved.

    It would seem I'm naively optimistic.

  20. Kinsey  •  Jun 22, 2012 @6:53 am

    According to NPR, USOC has retreated.

    Knitters 1, Douchebags 0.

  21. Laura  •  Jun 22, 2012 @7:03 am

    Bravo on an excellent article – I'm a knitter who found you through your excellent series of posts on The Oatmeal.

    I agree – in terms of actual trademark law Ravelry probably doesn't have a leg to stand on, but I do believe the term we use to describe this sort of behavior in the forums is douchecanoe, or even more epically, doucheyacht!

  22. TomB  •  Jun 22, 2012 @7:09 am

    So the USOC has to raise money where it can to spend money to keep these non-revenue producing sports alive. It's not that they're trying to raise money on the back of knitters, but if they close their eyes to knitters, what happens to the trademark violation claim when it's Joe Francis and he points out that they let the knitters slide? Being kind creates a precedent that bites one in the butt.

    Here's a clue. Since you control the trademark, you send them a letter, but if it makes you feel better, you can call it a "Communique From on High, Mt. Olympus" in which you grant them limited use of your precious, and otherworldly trademark (another idea, you really need a better word that "trademark". Too plain. How about "Golden Decree of Specialness from Zeus"?), in which you give these mere mortals, lemme see, "Poseidon's Godly Seal (see what I did there?!) of Using, But, Just for Now. Cause We Might Change our Minds Next Year…."

    See, that way, you maintain control of the trademark, and keep from looking like the north end of a south bound moose. (rhymes with Zeus)

  23. mojo  •  Jun 22, 2012 @7:27 am

    I'd like to see Mexico insist on having the old Aztec ball-game as part of the Olympics. It would be entertaining, educational – and they could sacrifice the losing team as a cultural homage to their blood-thirsty native ancestors…

  24. Vanessa  •  Jun 22, 2012 @7:36 am

    As a knitter and a law geek, I understood and was OK with the first part of the cease and desist. If I saw someone using a name I trademarked, I would have done the same.

    What got me upset was the word "denigrate". I'm an athlete and once upon a time, I had serious Olympic aspirations. Now my martial arts and my knitting are both just hobbies. They both require skill, dedication and perseverance but in different ways. it's an apples and oranges comparison. My knitting doesn't make me any more or less of a martial artist. My kung-fu doesn't take away from my knitting accomplishments either. If anything, both have been complimentary in helping me get through the tough times in life!

  25. jaxkayaker  •  Jun 22, 2012 @7:48 am

    "…huffing from giant knitted bongs…"

    Come to think of it, I could use a bong cozy.

    I wonder if the USOC got the laff-a-lympics cancelled for similar reasons.

  26. Alacaeriel  •  Jun 22, 2012 @7:58 am

    You know, some information that I haven't seen mentioned here is… yes, there are 2million+ Ravellers. However, not all of them are American. A good portion haven't even stepped foot on American land. I'm one of them. I will be watching the Olympics. And I'll be buying from Olympic sponsors. But they won't be sponsors of the American team, they'll be sponsoring Australia. So, while USOC alienated a good number of American knitters, they didn't quite get 2million people with easy access to sharp, pointed and painful things (as many of us can attest). The only thing I buy from the US is yarn, and funnily enough, they don't have any yarn-based sponsorship.

  27. V  •  Jun 22, 2012 @7:58 am

    I wonder which trademark the knitters are accused of infringing upon.
    I've tried using the trademark search on http://www.uspto.gov/ but I haven't come across one whose Goods and Services might include the Ravelympics or their knitwear.

    Slightly off-topic: I did come across this one, just look at the goods and services line.

  28. d  •  Jun 22, 2012 @8:30 am

    @jaxkayaker I too was reminded of the laff-a-lympics, haha.

    I don't normally advocate the improper use of words, but could some groups (not necessarily Ravelry) use the word "Olympiads?" (It's recognizable enough—though, again, a slight misuse.)

  29. RegimentalGoat  •  Jun 22, 2012 @8:30 am

    Sorry, it's EXACTLY like everyplace else on the internet except possibly more so.

  30. Mary Sue  •  Jun 22, 2012 @8:39 am

    To V:
    Apparently the argument is that the word "Ravelympics" is too much like "Olympics" and poor wee consumers would get confused in the head. Admittedly, there's a number of for sale patterns uploaded to the site that incorporate the Five Rings, which I understand are trademarked and should, IMO, be taken down.

    However, any photos of projects uploaded to the site that have been altered from the original ringless pattern to include the Olympic Five Rings clearly falls under Fair Use and Transformative rules, as long as the person doesn't try to sell the finished object. In my opinion, again.

    IANAL, though, just someone who deals with a bunch of legalese every stinking day.

    Personally, I think it was stupid to bring the hammer down on the Ravelympics because the whole point of it was to sit down, work on your fibercraft, and WATCH the Olympics, even if it's a sport you don't have any interest in. So they're basically saying, "We don't want you to see the commercials our advertisers paid for!"

  31. Mercury  •  Jun 22, 2012 @8:40 am

    You’d think the USOC would encourage things like this which very likely attract more interest in the actual Olympics. Morons.

    This is barely above suing kids' camps for singing copyrighted songs around the campfire.

    These guys better watch out though… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC4l-P20V-Q

  32. SamuraiKnitter  •  Jun 22, 2012 @8:55 am

    Thank you so much for getting the point. Among the knitters I know, it wasn't the idea of changing the name that really burned us. It was the wording of the letter. It really was incredibly rude. Then after we hammered them on Twitter and Facebook for about 24 hours, someone issued an apology that was possible worse (to paraphrase, "we're sorry you're offended, but we'll magnanimously accept any handknits you send us"). Uh, no.

    So the name is getting changed, and a great many people hold the USOC in contempt, who didn't before. I don't suppose the USOC is smart enough to learn from it. All it would have taken is different wording.

    (Oh, and Ravelry? We do have pics of cats, but our moderators are awesome. And now I want a knitted bong.)

  33. Kelly  •  Jun 22, 2012 @9:12 am

    Thank you! As one of the many knitters (and geeks) that found you via The Oatmeal story, I have been lurking and reading many of your posts. Enjoying every moment of them too.

    When this story broke, I realized that they MAY have a leg to stand on for the copyright…though it makes no sense to me how the US 'owns' the word.

    It was the "denigrate" that angered me. I am a 33 year old knitter and crocheter who has already taught all four of my children to knit. We are far from old ladies. What the USOC did was insulting, plain and simple. The non-apology (which my 8 year old could have done better with one arm tied behind her back) just made it worse.

    Again, thank you for giving us your take on this, it is much appreciated.

  34. Gillian  •  Jun 22, 2012 @10:00 am

    Thank you so much for treating knitters (and crocheters, etc.) like people who deserve respect rather than a bunch of addled old ladies buried in piles of yarn. You are not wrong about what Ravelry is. It's a site that's dedicated to a fun-loving and peaceful community.

  35. Shylock Holmes  •  Jun 22, 2012 @10:23 am

    I can't say I'm surprised, coming from a group whose former head (at the IOC level, anyway), Juan Antonio Samaranch, decided to just award himself the title of 'His Excellence'.

  36. Suz  •  Jun 22, 2012 @10:32 am

    I enjoyed reading your take on this. Very well written and thought provoking.

    The majority of knitters who were upset by the actions of the USOC were mostly upset by the language and offensive insults. Yes, we're not happy about changing the name. It's silly and greedy on the part of the USOC. But we get why they're doing it. We don't agree with it but we get it. However they crossed a line when they said knitting was denigrating and disrespectful to the olympic athletes who have worked so hard. That is what set us off and their feeble attempts at an apology have only added insult to injury.

    You're correct in your thoughts that Ravelry is a harmonious peaceful place. There's no website like it. Besides all the great resources for fiber artists there are thousands of "groups" for just about every topic you can possibly think of. It's actually a favorite site among many non-knitters. Please come check it out. Yes, you have to join but it's free and it's a very simple process.

  37. Ulrike  •  Jun 22, 2012 @10:45 am

    One point of clarification, 4 of the 9 patterns the USOC objected to are free. A knitter made one and then wrote down how she did it so other people could do the same. My (lay-person's!) understanding of the issue is that the USOC can object to my selling of items (or patterns) with their trademark, but not to my offering of free instructions so you can make your own.

    As for the issue of the name "Ravelympics", I think an argument could be made that it's different enough to avoid confusion, etc. Then again, I tend to think common sense is more common than it really is, so maybe there really are people out there stupid enough to think that the Ravelympics are a real sporting event affiliated with The Olympics.

  38. Rainlover  •  Jun 22, 2012 @11:08 am

    My best beloved is a knitter, criminal defense attorney and former Olympic contender. He shook his head and clicked his tongue (which is extremely expressive for a Midwesterner) when he heard the news, and carried on with his five-colored-rings chemo beanie he was knitting for a total stranger. Thank you, Ken, for being the face of compassionate, honorable and crazy-smart lawyers everywhere.

  39. Tsarina of Tsocks  •  Jun 22, 2012 @11:14 am

    Well, thank you for stealing my morning. I didn't know about you until I followed you here from the tweetstorm about Ravelympics and then made the mistake of clicking on some of the links in your post (am now gleefully preparing to make the further mistake of clicking again to get your take on the Oatmeal saga). Many working hours down the drain, and well worth it. Truly a Daniel come to judgment.

    I don't know who sent you the tip or what they expected, but from where I stand I don't really think this was ever a case for the PopeHat Signal. We don't need legal help on this. Casey and Ravelry are already adequately represented, I believe, and most of us know better than to fret unduly over having to rename the event, if it comes to that. Hell, it becomes a good story to dine out on, and we move on. And hey, we DID get not one but two apologies out of the USOC, and I'm even inclined to think the second of them was actually sincere. I wonder how many of the USOC's other opponents in such matters can claim as much.

    Of course you are right on the money as to the substance of this problem. It may be fatuous of the USOC to consider the Ravelympics a threat to its brand, and indeed I'm not entirely convinced of the merits of their case (would love to see the argument for claiming ownership of those six characters in search of a full word, especially given that the Ravelry event is not only inoffensive but non-competitive in every sense… and yes, I can see that that in itself is sort of a non-sequitur), but that's beside the point – if they feel compelled to pursue it, I suppose they must. But oh good lord do they lose points for style! (And where they lose points, we have plenty of them, nice sharp needly ones.) The irony is that they set themselves up as the embodiment of tolerance and respect and world peace and good fellowship… and then they turn around and cock a snook at us. It's the rudeness and the hypocrisy, it's the utter ham-fisted clumsiness of it. It's the contempt. Golden Rule? The standard-bearers for international good will openly thumbed their noses at it. THAT's what sent us up in arms. (Well, that and the failure to do their homework. They got an awful lot of facts wrong about what Ravelympics actually is, what it's for, who is behind it… yeah, never mind. Mistakes. Made.)

    Incidentally, you are also pretty much on the money in your sight-unseen estimate of Ravelry. As huge self-governed communities go it is about as fine and civil a haven as can be imagined, or perhaps more so. (OK, truth compels me to admit there are a few pictures of cats. But we keep that in proportion and we have a sense of humor about it. Mostly.) Login? Well, hey, Facebook requires one of those too; it's hardly much of a deterrent to anyone who wants to wander in and look around. (Heh. If USOC could do it, anyone can.) And there is a LOT more to see there than knitting and other fibery pursuits.

    For many of us on Ravelry the fiber arts are much more than a hobby – they are a profession, a crusade, a realm of scholarship, a way of life. Those people for whom they are a hobby? Those are our customers, and we love and value them; we treat them with respect, and we do what we can to ensure that other people do the same.

    So that's what I really want to thank you for – not for legal-eagle-ness, but for human-being-ness. Thank you for grokking the point and for showing the world what you grok; thank you for the benefit of the doubt, for the presumption of good will; oh hell, thank you for class and general decency.

    Also… dude… style, u haz it, and then some. All the deliciously fine-tuned snark of the regretsy letter AND a dashing reference to WonderPets in one of the Signal posts? You completely rule the internetz; I bow to you.

  40. Squishycat  •  Jun 22, 2012 @11:37 am

    Quick note to your musings about why you can't get a look at the Ravelry fora – Ravelry requires a login because it's not just an online community of crafters – people put up personal information (for meet ups and exchanges), and can purchase patterns etc. through the website, so there is financial data to protect as well. (Now, why there aren't some open to read-only anonymous visitors, I'm not really sure.)

  41. TiggerKnitter  •  Jun 22, 2012 @12:12 pm

    As another of the Ravelers who tweeted you about this, thank you. I discovered you both via the Regretsy issue, and then again with The Oatmeal's debacle. You got right to the heart of what bothered those of us who came out in full force. I understand they have to protect their trademark. I know that the easiest way to do it is a c&d form letter. I hope that with the firestorm this stirred up, the douchecanoes at the USOC will change their standard boilerplate, which this allegedly was.

    As Tsarina said, you grok this and you hit it out of the ballpark. Thank you so much for taking up a blog post for us. And Ravelry is WONDERFUL. Please, feel free to join and take a look around. I promise you won't be the only non-knitter/crocheter/spinner who's a member, and you never know. Maybe you'll get a new hobby out of it! :D

  42. Kittenears  •  Jun 22, 2012 @12:26 pm

    I was hoping you would weigh in on this.

    Though I do disagree in small part. The law clerk sent a standard C&D. As in, if you look up the Redneck Olympics, you can find their C&D posted online.

    Why does this matter? Well Mr. Hirsch, according to some posts, has only been there months. Interning, or nosepicking, whatever law clerks do.

    The Redneck Olympics C&D contains the same spiteful language word-for-word. Signed by a different person at the USOC. This leads me to believe that the USOC's defense that it was just a 'standard' letter is true.

    Though it was a really douche-y letter to send, and it'd be nice to see that not only acknowledged, but changed. As your blog has so aptly proven, it is possible to write legal speak in the most douchey manner possible. It's also possible to write it with a great deal of snark. But respectful firmness is more what I'd expect from the USOC. Maybe my expectations are too high.

  43. Dave Ferguson  •  Jun 22, 2012 @12:32 pm

    This reminds me of Allan Pedersen, a whisky-loving Dane who opened a sausage shop called MacAllan's — after getting permission from a distillery of some renown. Naturally, he was sued by a certain hamburger chain, which seemed to think Danes couldn't tell the difference between Pedersen's sausages and the chain's fine product.

    The Danish supreme court felt that Danes could figure that out, and Pedersen kept his store open.

    He told an interview from NPR that he'd heard from a contact from his travels to Scotland, indignant that an American burger biz would presume to say who could and could not use "Mc-" as part of its name.

    The contact in question? The Lord Macdonald of Macdonald, Chief of the Name, High Chief of Clan Donald.

  44. Angelica  •  Jun 22, 2012 @12:54 pm

    As a lawyer, knitter, and member of Ravelry, I appreciate that you took the time to write about this issue. I discovered Popehat earlier this year and have thoroughly enjoyed your analysis and investigations. In fact, I spent time last weekend catching up on the Oatmeal debacle through your posts.

    I believe most of us Ravelers were understanding of the USOC's need to protect it's trademark. Yes, it sucks that we will have to change the name of a fun event, but we understand the legal issues behind the request. In fact, many Ravelers (including many of my friends) are designers that sell their patterns or other fiber arts related accessories. Thus, we completely understand the issues of copyrights and the difficulty in protecting our work.

    Changing the name was not the issue that caused the anger. It was the condescending tone and poor choice of words that created the uproar. The fiber arts community is one of the most supportive I have ever known. Among this community, and especially on Ravelry, not only will you find technical help for a project you are working on, but also advice and support for regular life issues – divorce, death, job loss, etc. I think that Ravelry is a true embodiment of "culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony," even more so than the Olympic Games themselves.

  45. Ara Ararauna  •  Jun 22, 2012 @2:52 pm

    If it was a matter of trademarks, why they don't pay a part to Greece for they were the original makers of the τὰ Ὀλύμπια? Probably that way they would float a little longer over their own monetary crisis.

    Why I can't understand well is when these games changed from a means to call for a truce during wars to the monetizing monster it is today. Where Ravelry is located mostly? Why USOC is CaDing Ravelry just because they used a bunch of circles and primary colours? If I create a shop called Olympic and I sell dumbell weights and what not, will they be able to sue me to change the name of my shop and pay them a fine? Even outside the USA???

    Damn this is on the same level of BS as the people that trademark colours like "Goblin Green", "Elf Flesh", "Khomando Khaki", "Red Gore" and everything else in this chart http://api.ning.com/files/ohPV2cAvFauMgbCXAEmSvoKc6EkgkBBNCc7oreA-0vkqkENoTvsjTysqICN-Q60v6nucr9r2tqeWP*WCLNwV7CHckD2XHD1d/CitadelColourChart.jpg

    Trademarking blight it is, miasma that consumes and pervades everything, starting with your wallet and your tears *bites a cracker in frustration*

  46. Ara Ararauna  •  Jun 22, 2012 @3:04 pm

    @Angelica it saddens me a lot to see a whole community of selfless people being stomped by the inquisitive claims of a "corporation" (really, if they were a real NPO they wouldn't bother to do this to almost EVERY community using the real meaning of the olympics to promote gathering and healthy competition).

    In fact, it outrages me how those flamboyant snobs defends so zealously a symbol that was meant as union and cooperation, rather than a "marketing logo". Symbols, words… it doesn't matter, they are hurting the good spirits and freedom of people with their petulant quashing claims, it boils my blood… *sniffle*

  47. LeonardShneider  •  Jun 22, 2012 @4:39 pm

    I've been annoyed enough with the USOC and IOC for a while, but the harassment of the Ravelers prompted me to respond to the USOC's "apology". To wit:

    Well. About as sincere and heart-felt as any apology from the TSA.

    To the USOC: Blow me. Your anal-retentive, Disneyesque obsession with protecting your brand is offensive, expensive, and an insult. Let's see, how many other organizations and small businesses have you hounded (sometimes into poverty) over the years? There's The Olympian, a Washington newspaper started in 1860, which you tried to prevent from trademarking its own name. There's your suing of the Gay Olympics in San Francisco, or the Redneck Olympics, or diners and restaurants who dared to use the word 'Olympic' in their names, or the Woolsack project (mentioned below), or…
    You're less than scum. You all have your collective nose up corporate America's ass so far that if you sneezed, its dick would flap out like a party streamer. (Although the display of the five-ring logo does help me when I'm shopping: I know which products to NOT buy.)

    To the athletes: I recommend some soul-searching. You were probably told as children that you are judged by those you associate with. Well, you're hanging around with a bunch of complete dickheads. Ask yourselves: am I competing in my sport for the love of the sport, or is it out of a misguided sense of patriotism? Am I pursuing athletic perfection for my own better good, or is it the lure of that Fifteen Minutes of Fame (and a possible sponsorship contract)? Can you deal with the fact that, ultimately, you're employed by litigious, lawyer-fellating corporate stooges?

    Remember folks, from now on, the correct spelling is "OLYMPICS(TM)©®." Treat 'em like the business they are, and boycott.

  48. AlphaCentauri  •  Jun 22, 2012 @9:44 pm

    When I was in high school, there was a "Math Olympiad." I think there still is. I suspect "olympic" and "olympian" are protected, but not "Olympus," "olympiad," etc. So Ravelry could still have its own version. If it wanted to. Which wouldn't be as much fun as what they're doing now.

    As far as the C&D letter, perhaps the USOC's legal department is carrying on the Olympic spirit of amateurism …

  49. Dave  •  Jun 22, 2012 @11:47 pm

    Somebody at USOC need to google "Streisand Effect." They may then facepalm with my blessing :)

  50. Maria  •  Jun 23, 2012 @2:14 am

    Bravo on pointing out that USOC's accidental insult of a social network with a population larger than some countries only highlights the flaws of the commercialized Games. Ravelry is a multi-national group of crafters that exemplifies cooperation and respect for differences. I am not surprised the uproar that follow USOC's poorly-worded demand has caused USOC to apologize.

  51. AthleteKnitter  •  Jun 23, 2012 @5:59 am

    Actually, I do think Greece should sue the OC. After all, the word is theirs. They could, certainly, use the money. I spent 6 or 7 days a week, working 4 to 7 (or more) hours training for a sport while I was in middle and high school and added weight training to that. I was good – danged good. We tried for years to have roller skating added as a sport. The OC response was they already had a skating sport and no one would watch roller skating. Hmmm. Were they interested in sports or money? Today, they have wonderful sports like curling and whatever that stupid banner waving thing is. You have to wonder what motivates the OC. Oh, yes! I know, I know! MONEY – hmm that has five symbols, too. Today, I knit. I joined the Ravel********* in SUPPORT of the athletes – not to "denigrate" them. I watched (and recorded) obsessively the games. No more. I will buy nothing with the logo. I will watch, not at all. After all OC, you didn't want my sport when I was younger and, today, you don't want my support today, at least in spirit, so you will not get it in money or attention. I think, maybe, you need a committee to check into the sanity and common sense of your (possibly) deranged legal department. Are you going to rename the mountain on Mars named for the O*******?

  52. nlp  •  Jun 23, 2012 @10:12 am

    An insightful post. I'm a member of Ravelry, but didn't sign up for the Ravelympics. The letter from USOC, if indeed it's their template, really needs looking at. An apologetic "we're very sorry we have to do this," followed by a "your event sounds interesting and we hope you have fun, and/or raise money for your cause" sort of letter would not have raised any hackles. There are polite ways of telling people to shut up.

    By the way, someone mentioned the Yarn Harlot (aka Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) who started the event. Her system was very simple. You start knitting something you've never knitted before during the Opening Ceremonies, and finish it before the Closing Ceremonies end. Since it essentially flew below the Olympic radar no one made any objections.

    Here's her piece about the USOC letter.

    http://www.yarnharlot.ca/blog/archives/2012/06/21/now_that_you_ask.html#comments

    (And she has raised one million for Doctors without Borders).

  53. theNuszAbides  •  Jun 23, 2012 @11:05 am

    @Alpha Centauri: yes, there still is. it was the first thing that came to my mind when hearing about this debacle a day or two ago (i've lost track of time since being introduced to popehat [all hail!!] via the carreon-clan trainwreck a week ago, and have been spending most of my time savoring every sober analysis i can find, contrasting with the occasional dose of tucson[or brooklyn, or the use of the words 'librarian' or 'philosophy', or the legal profession]-shaming craycray…), and an extremely brief search (still busy, as mentioned) didn't turn up any evidence that the math olympiad has ever been challenged for its naughty, naughty resonance. it certainly has more in common with the olympics than the ravelympics – actually being competitive – and IMO did a very clever number on the logo! maybe that law clerk (and many others before him) ignored it because it isn't a vibrant internet band of two million? or maybe it's just a manifestation of 'nerd'-fear among teh 'jocks'?

  54. theNuszAbides  •  Jun 23, 2012 @11:11 am

    @nlp thanks for clarifying that the earlier mention of the yarn harlot's proceeds had 3 extraneous 0s tacked on – i was wary of presuming either the impossibility of such a thing ('single'-handedly marshaling a cool billion through fiber-craftiness would certainly deserve numerous accolades), or a poor grasp of numbers on someone else's part. ;)

  55. Deborah Hale  •  Jun 23, 2012 @11:15 am

    If the USOC owns every part of the word "Olympics", I have to wonder: If I want to say something is really, really big, I'm likely to say "of olympic proportion". (Sue me if you wish.) A certain writer named one of her fictional characters "Olympe Maxime". (C'mon all you bibliophiles of all ages, you know who she is! Here's a hint: this woman arrived in the mid-point of the series, when several schools decided to have a tournament, and she was a Headmistress.) I'll bet the writer didn't get a form letter from USOC, and I'm not naming her just in case those sue-happy lawyers decide to go after her. Also, I recall a certain M*A*S*H episode where Col. Potter decided to get the camp in shape, but nobody was really keen on the idea until he made it a contest. The name of the episode is "The M*A*S*H Olympics." Did the show's writers, or anyone else, have to pay a royalty to the USOC? When is the state of Washington planning on renaming Olympic Peninsula, Olympic Mountains, Olympic National Park, etc? Was anyone on the USOC aware that the U.S. Open was played, in part, at Olympic Club in Miami? (FYI for those who care: Tiger Woods did pretty well.)

    There are probably dozens of examples I could quote, but I believe I've made my point: the USOC does NOT own the word or any part thereof, and their fuming and posturing is nothing more than a bully demanding a little kid's lunch money, and should be treated as such.

  56. nlp  •  Jun 23, 2012 @11:24 am

    ThenuszAbides, I think it was similar to the little girl who said she knew how to spell "banana" but didn't know when to stop. But Stephanie did once raise $120,000 in 72 hours, which I think was very impressive.

  57. Tomas - University Place, WA  •  Jun 23, 2012 @10:54 pm

    Here in Washington state we have a continual problem with the USOC since we have the Olympic Mountains and the Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula, and literally thousands of small business that use "Olympic" in their name because they are there.

    USOC has attacked and trashed numerous small businesses and even distribution of "Olympic Peninsula" guide books.

    Needless to say, i personally believe that the USOC has too much power granted to it, and is all too eager to overuse it.

  58. theNuszAbides  •  Jun 24, 2012 @9:46 am

    indeed, i regret implying that generating even a mere $million is not worthy of praise. her response to the kerfuffle is also quite impressive.

  59. Ron Coleman  •  Jun 24, 2012 @5:01 pm

    Thing is, Ken, you don't have to be a law clerk to send a really dumb, surefire-to-backfire cease and desist letter.

  60. DC  •  Jun 25, 2012 @1:19 pm

    FYI, Exxon didn't make the cut, but BP did. As such, they hold Olympics for their employees to participate in as a team-building exercise.

  61. Hilltop Dreamer  •  Jun 26, 2012 @9:02 am

    As a non US citizen (yes there is a world outside) I am astounded that the Ravelympics are only denigrating to the athletes the USOC support. So 'sad' the rest of the worlds athlete are safe from those nasty knitters.

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