Opinions - Logo no go. What the Olympic brand police tell us about Britain.


by Magnus Shaw




In Britain, we love sports. We also adore a bit of patriotic tub thumping. Combine the two and the excitement is almost unbearable. I'm talking about the Olympics, of course.

Within a matter of weeks, billions of pounds worth of running and jumping will engulf us for a fortnight, and the country is working itself into a right old tizzy. Hooray, I suppose.


But if there's something in which we indulge even more than national pride and athletics, it's officialdom. Heavy-handed rules and regulations are definitely our "thing".Think of something you'd like to do, then count the hordes of Orwellian bureaucrats rushing towards you, clipboards aloft, to prevent your little idea making progress.

And so it is with the Olympic brand.

Now you might imagine, what with the Olympics being an event designed to give the UK a much needed boost, that we'd all be free to share in this sporting beanfeast. After all, we paid for it through ticket sales and taxes, it's being hosted in our names and is supposed to restore flagging community spirit. But no. No, no, no. Are you mad? Why on earth would a pleb like you be given the opportunity to be part of this corporate bonanza? Now go to your room and stop annoying the nice rich folk.

You see that Olympic logo? The one that looks like Bart and Lisa doing a very bad thing? That's protected by copyright that is. And I guess you'd expect it to be. It was very expensive and it was somebody's ... ahem ... good idea. But this protection is merely the tip of the iceberg.

As the Olympic torch blazed into Melton Mowbray this week, one local businesswoman was astonished to be visited by a crew of long-coated, fedora wearing operatives from LOCOG and Trading Standards, demanding she removed five hula-hoops from her lingerie shop window. These hoops weren't branded, nor did they overlap, but the goon squad insisted she was cloning a trade-marked Olympic logo. They refused to leave until she removed them.

This kind of over-zealousness is usually dismissed as a "one-off" or a "misinterpretation" of the rules. But not when it comes to Olympic logos. In fact, these shenanigans have been keeping the authorities rather busy over the last year or so. Which isn't surprising when you consider The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 makes the words "London 2012" and "2012" protected trademarks, along with the name of the official LOCOG website, and "various derivatives". That's right, the actual numbers of the year are a registered trademark and technically, one could be sued for using them without permission. As I have here.

Legislation of this nature is crazy, not simply because it's unenforceable (although it obviously is), but because it is so ludicrously paranoid. Are LOCOG really concerned regular folk may set up an alternative sports event in their garden and fool tourists into attending by misusing the name of a city and four digits? Well, why not? They're certainly terrified independent bakeries might make a couple of quid from Olympic cookies, as they've already served notices on a handful of them.

The only territory in which this rigidity may be needed is online, particularly applied to ticketing websites. Let's not forget Rebecca Adlington's parents lost a small fortune buying fake tickets for her performances in Bejing. Interestingly, a Google search shows many unofficial sites promoting everything from river cruises to hostels, all using the forbidden logos. In the Daily Telegraph LOCOG says:

"We are aware that domain names relating to London 2012 are prevalent but, because of the nature of domain names and the endless variations which are possible, we have taken a decision not to take action in respect of every domain name we are aware of."

"We do employ an agency that monitors domain names. However, it would be wrong and disproportionate to take a blanket approach, because some domain names may have been created for completely legitimate, non-commercial purposes, and others will never be actively used."

In other words, the internet is such a terribly complicated place and its users are so far ahead of LOCOG's curve, they'd rather stamp down on knicker shops and confectioners than pursue anyone who could do any real damage.

I suspect the real driving force behind this draconian action is the sponsorship lobby. Our friends the faceless conglomerates have paid millions to slap Olympic devices on their products and vehicles, so it's not unlikely they'd demand exclusivity - even if that means small businesses lose out on a bit of welcome revenue. (Particularly mean when we consider the mega-corporations' record on tax paying.)

So, quite apart from the rather selfish and unbalanced approach, LOCOG's copyright clampdown is painting a sad but quite accurate picture of the Great British character. We have an innate enthusiasm for large-scale displays of pomp and pride, but an abiding fear of people reaching too far. It seems the Olympics brand is a means to show off to the world - but is absolutely not available to the common man or woman. It is particularly and rigorously held away from independent micro-companies who would relish the shot-in-the-arm the Games can deliver. Those logos aren't for the likes of you and me, they're for the makers of sweaty burgers, sugary fizz and pernicious chemicals.

That's what the rules say. That's the British way.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant.

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