Should the Vancouver Olympic Organizers Own “Winter”?

With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games scheduled for Vancouver, the Canadian Olympic Committee has set the goal of "owning the podium."  Today the Olympic Committee took the first step toward another form of ownership – language.  Industry Minister Maxime Bernier introduced Bill C-47, the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act, legislation that provides the Vancouver Olympic organizers with remarkable power over the language and symbols associated with the Olympics.  The legislation is supposedly intended to deal with ambush marketing, which are attempts by businesses to associate themselves with the Olympics without becoming official sponsors.  Similar legislation has been introduced in other countries that have hosted the Olympics, though there are questions about the effectiveness of the approach.

While it is understandable that the Olympic organizers want to maximize the marketing potential of the games, the bill raises several concerns. 

First, as David Fewer of CIPPIC notes, the organizers already have trademark and copyright law at their disposal, which begs the question of whether additional legislation is necessary. 

Second, if a new law is needed, there are concerns that this bill may be overbroad and limit freedom of speech by curtailing criticism and parody of the Olympics.  The bill contains an exception that seeks to address the concern by providing that "for greater certainty, the use of an Olympic or Paralympic mark or a translation of it in any language in the publication or broadcasting of a news report relating to Olympic Games or Paralympic Games, or for the purposes of criticism relating to Olympic Games or Paralympic Games, is not a use in connection with a business."  This may be enough to address the issue, though many artists, bloggers, and social commentators may think twice before targeting the Olympics for fear of facing legal demands arising from this legislation (criticism and parody are not the same thing and will a court treat a blogger coverage as a news report?).  Indeed, the arts community expressed these concerns during the Sydney Olympics and questions have already arisen about this issue in Vancouver.

Third, and IMHO most importantly, even the most balanced implementation of this law still represents an extreme example of special interest legislation.  Bernier has no time to deal with spam, spyware, privacy, or net neutrality but commits to legislation on behalf of the organizers of a sporting event?  Moreover, the legislation grants the Olympic organizers enormous power to police the use of anything approaching association with the Olympics.  For example, the bill contains a list of expressions to be considered by the federal court to determine whether someone has misled the public into believing that their business is endorsed or associated with the Olympics.  The expressions include: winter, gold, silver, bronze, sponsor, Vancouver, Whistler, 2010, tenth, medals, and games.  While this looks like a recipe for abuse, the Olympic organizers have assured the public that it "is committed to applying the proposed legislation in a disciplined, sensitive, fair and transparent manner."  Perhaps, but many Canadians may justifiably be left to ask whether anyone should be granted the right to govern the use of generic words such as winter or Vancouver.

Update: Several people have written arguing that I've misrepresented the bill and that it is indeed balanced.  I've re-read my posting and stand by what I said – I think there are questions about (i) whether the bill is needed, (ii) whether it provides sufficient protection for parody and other use of the word Olympics in a manner that might be treated as commercial under the law, and (iii) whether it is appropriate to create this form of special interest legislation.

That said, there are precautions in the law.  I pointed to at least one in the initial posting, noting the exception for criticism and publication or broadcasting of a news report (though I suggested that this might be incomplete).  There are others, notably for businesses that used these marks before March 2, 2007 (ie. Olympic Pizza might be ok if it was established last week but it is now off-limits) and protection for some of the expressions expire after 2010 (though other countries have dropped all protections after the Olympics concluded).  It should be noted that there are some unusually strong measures too.  For example, a court can order all goods using the marks to be seized by Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, as if public exposure to non-authorized Olympic goods were a public safety issue.

As for protections for generic terms such as winter, Vancouver, games, etc., I thought I was clear that this protection is a factor to be considered by a court in determining whether a violation has occurred.  The combination of words – Games, 2010, Tenth, or Medals on the one hand, with winter, gold, sponsor, Vancouver or Whistler on the other – would be evidence to be considered by the court in assessing whether there has been a violation of the law.


  1. Mr.
    I wonder if this type of law would pass constitutional muster if it were ever brought to the attention of the supreme court?

  2. Mr.
    Ah, yes. So let’s say there is a company called “Olympic Paint” (Oh, wait, there is. Based just a couple hours South in Olympia Washington.) And let’s say that they have a physical store in Vancouver. (Oh, wait, they do [ link ] .) So let’s say that in 2010, they want to run a simple ad stating that they are having a sale.

    “Start 2010 with a new colour! Save on paint this Winter with Olympic! Stores throughout Vancouver.” That would be a perfectly benign any other Winter. But in 2010, that would be completely infringing advertising, with a full 4 infringing words (and one that hints at infringing, “colour”.)

    (Olympic Paint has been sued by the IOC before over their name before. The IOC lost.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Corporate ownership of language is a frightening thing.
    The thought that our leaders are going to pass a law to protect the integrity of the Olympic image is humourous.
    The history of corruption in the Olympic organization seems to be the same thing that they claim to loath.

  4. Just when I thought it was only here in the States that our representatives are shameless corporate tools.

  5. Laer
    Thanks for the early heads-up on this. Just sent out a bulletin in Myspace about it to inform all my “friends”. With enough vocal resistance, perhaps such organizations will decide to tread VERY carefully going forward, before they start plucking standard words out of the dictionary to privatize!

  6. Not quite true
    If you read the bill as proposed, it is clear that, a) journalism is explicitly excluded from the ban, b), if the trademark was in use before 2007-03-02, it would remain a legal use, and c) that the expressions such as winter, gold, silver and vancouver have to be in direct and immediate conjunection with one of the trademarks like Olympic Games and so forth. Just using Vancover+winter in 2010 together does not violate.

    Still, damned IOC.

  7. Under exceptions:
    (4) Nothing in subsection (1) or (2) prevents
    (b) the use of a trade-mark by an owner or licensee of the trade-mark if an owner or licensee of the trade-mark used it before March 2, 2007 and the use subsequent to that date is in association with…

    Will this protect olympic pizza, olympic first-aid services, and other companies with ‘olympic’ in their name from trademark lawsuits?

  8. What gets me about this is that billions of our tax dollars are going into the olympics and now they are taking away our rights to associate with the event that WE are paying for.

  9. Mr
    Maybe they should also cover words and word groups like “corruption”, “concrete”, “under the table”, “cost overrun” “kickback” which surely will be used in association with Vancouver’s winter olympics. Say maybe we could rename them the Olympicpockets after all of those embarrassing bills come in. I can hear it no “Golly, we don’t know what happened”.

  10. What James just said, plus what Mr. Geist said (“Bernier has no time to deal with spam, spyware, privacy, or net neutrality but commits to legislation on behalf of the organizers of a sporting event?”)* should be troubling to Canadians.

    * fair use copy & pasting

  11. Anonymous says:

    The agreement the Royal Canadian Mint forces its resellers to sign in order to carry the olympic coins is ridiculous. It’s like you’re signing on to a movie deal or something.

    There’s 5 pages of things like you can’t carry more than 20% of the coins as olympic, you can’t take cards other than Visa, you can’t combine olympic coins with other coins for sale (or anything for that matter), you can’t advertise on the internet, eBay is out of the question entirely, you can’t export the MONEY outside of Canada, etc.

    It’s really sad how our governments like to control us, and how they bow down to big business like the IOC. I really hope they end up losing money hosting these games, so that we can move on and never have to host another olympic games here again.

  12. It’s pretty telling that the bill was dropped on the House by a backbench MP on a Friday afternoon before a two-week break.

  13. This is one of those \”just when I think I\’ve heard the Stupidest Thing Possble, someone keeps talkin\’\” moments.

    Why any COMMERCIAL venture, and this is simply a commercial venture, should need any protections beyond normal trademark or copyright is beyond me. Once granted for this venture for this instance who will be looking for protections of their terms next.

    This is a bad precedent to set and it needs to be stopped now. We need to get the governments back working on the things that governments are needed for and that\’s not creating special instance laws for individual commercial enterprises.

    (However, I like ROberts suggestion except that these terms do not apply exclusovely to the Vancouver Olympics. This has become the standard of behaviour in all the Olympic ventures.

  14. Minister of Public Safety and Emergency
    I’m much more personally concerned by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness provisions. No, seriously. What’s the deal here?

    When I first heard about the formation of this Ministry, shivers went down my spine and echoes of Department of Homeland Security rang in the back of my mind. But I thought “Naw, this is Canada. It won’t happen here.” The Department of Homeland Security now polices what people are browsing at public Internet terminals in libraries ([ Link]).

    Boom. Here we go. Obviously the IOC’s trademarks, and terms related to the Olympics are a matter of national security. Of course. Use of these terms would, uhm, embolden the terrorists into attacking the games. Yeah. That’s it.

    A friend once said to me “These things aren’t worth worrying about. It’s not like it’s that big of a deal. It’s just something small. Let it go.” And all I could answer was “When do we start worrying? When /does/ it become a big deal? When does the combination of little restrictions and ‘changes’ add up to where we should start panicing?” I didn’t get an answer.

  15. Whistler Outfitters says:

    This is all a load of crap. Nobody can own a word like Vancouver or Whistler or the name of a year 2010, a season? Winter. Give me a break.
    They can waste our tax dollars on debating this bill but it will not pass. Even if it does, they will pull their hair out trying to enforce it.

  16. We could talk about the Tartarus Scams being played at Buttcover and Moaner in the rainy season of 2009. People more vicious, er, humourous could do better.

    I intend to snarl at anybody who uses the O-word, or any of the others, and inform them how much this con-job costs each one of us and how much profit the godfathers are going to keep all to themselves.

  17. Robert McClelland says:

    Do you think something like this will be a problem in 2010?

  18. Robert McClelland says:

    Dammit. You need to alert people that hyperlinking doesn’t work here. Anyway, here’s the link.
    [ link ]

  19. Looney
    I am surprised they forgot MMX, YVR, Ag & Au. Mean while they can look at Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula to the west or travel to Vancouver, Washington to the south. At least it’s now illegal to call Winnipeg ‘WinterPeg’, or dare I call it the ‘Season between Autumn and Spring’ peg.

  20. I really hope some band release an official F*** the Olympics CD, with olympic rings and all. And I really want those officious ioc f**ktards to try and confiscate it. And I think every business along Cambie Street should advertize a big official Olympic craphole sale, with Olympic rings and medals on the adverts. I really want to the cops smash those unpatriotic anti-olympic business owners.

    And Richmond, the city that can’t agree on a slogan (child of the fraser? island city by nature?) should just be honest and call itself “child bitch of the Olympics, by nature”.

    You invite some expensive prostitute like the Olympics to into your city, you can’t complain about the diseases you later get.

    This excercize is beyond defamation.

  21. Official Critic of the 2010 Games
    Besides the nasty big brother aspect of this, and the government being in bed with business instead of the individual, this made me think. (!)

    I assume the intent is to ensure the marks are exclusive, in order to accentuate the benefits of becoming an official sponsor, and therefore commanding a higher price for same. If so, then is it reasonable that the law wouldn’t apply to critics, in that it doesn’t benefit them to use those marks? If the reason is economic from a marketing standpoint, should the law then apply to companies or persons using the marks to advertise, to sell their own products? Are critics selling a product? Does traffic increase because they use those marks? I guess you could start a blog to criticize the Olympics, and then you’d have to do it without using the marks, or else become an “Official Critic of the 2010 Vancouver Games”? 😉

  22. Expanded Bill - They need to c says:

    Perhaps they have not cover all, the government should come forward and add the future one, “We don’t know what happened with the money”, “Don’t blame us”, “9% PST to pay the debt”, “That’s the price we all now have to pay”, “Organizers were already wealthy”, “my yacht has grown with the years”, “Who said Mexico was corrupted?, We can teach them”.

    No matter how much media and PR they spend on, we all know how corrupted this whole deal is, I was excited to hear the games were coming to Vancouver, at this point, I am ashamed to see all the excess and waste of money they are incurring.

    Unfortunatelly, everyone that is loyal to this city/province (anti-business), we will be left behind with a new group of rich individuals and a huge debt.

    To make things worst, the next election the NDP will win. :-(),

  23. Che Guevara says:

    this bullshit is making me sick who are these people the IOC does not own the olmypic rings or the name olmypic this belongs to Greece THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE OLMYPICS this damed country is turning into a dictatership who the hell can afford to go to these games nobody i know. How the hell can these people be allowed to try to victimize people that have been using these names for years.The more i see the more i relize that Canada is not a democrate country but a facist state that operates under the guise of democracy.

  24. Disgusted says:

    Olympic Peninsula NAILED
    Its in the news today. An American naturalist published a book about the Olympic Peninsula Wildlife and, sure enough, the vanoc-vultures are there with the gestapo in tow demanding payment for use of their trademark.

    I, for one, am glad they’ve shown their true colours. Its got nothing to do with friendship, friendly competition, excellence, or amateur sports. Its got everything to do with GREED. A very few people get much, much richer while you and I foot the bill.

  25. Maurice Cardinal says:

    Editor: OlyBLOG
    How do you think VANOC and the IOC will react to these websites?

  26. Robert Henry
    New book. Olympic Corruption on an Olympic Scale. Sue me. I need the publicity.

  27. Pete Mason says:

    I love Canada and its true that we certainly have our problems here, but I feel that rather than condemning Canada and the Government of Canada as corrupt dictators, etc., it is better to ask ourselves: “What I am doing for Canada?” Its easy to point the finger at “corrupt” Governments and “corrupt” Olympics etc. but far more challenging, and, IMHO, more intellectually stimulating, to shine the spotlight of truth on our own inner corruption, laziness, negativity, greed and lack of patrotic enthusiam. Whenever we point a finger at someone we have 3 pointing right back at ourselves.


  28. Search engine marketing Vancouver says:

    marketing Vancouver
    The winter of 2009–2010 in Europe has been unusually cold. Globally there has been atypical snowfalls in several parts of the Northern Hemisphere. In January 2010, the northern half of Europe experienced one of its coldest winters since 1981–1982. Starting on 16 December 2009 light snowfalls and weather warnings took place.

    Search engine marketing Vancouver