Overview of the Olympics, Ravelympics and Trademark Protection Issues in the News

olympic rings 400x266 Overview of the Olympics, Ravelympics and Trademark Protection Issues in the News

By now you have probably heard about the major issue involving The Olympics and Ravelympics. But in case you haven’t, I wanted to do an overview explaining it at all and highlighting the fact that it’s not just The Ravelympics that’s been targeted in all of this, although that issue has brought the most media attention.

USOC and The Ravelympics

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The Ravelympics is a Ravelry group for people who want to commit to completing a knit or crochet project during the Olympics, ideally stretching themselves to try a new technique or type of project. It’s just one of those ways that crafters can encourage each other in their work. The stated “goal of the Ravelympics is to support you in expanding your knitting/crocheting horizons.” And what a great time to do it since a lot of folks will be sitting in front of the TV, watching the games with hook or needles in hand. Ravelympics started with the 2008 Olympics, were active again in 2010 and are now ready for the 2012 London Olympics.

About a week or so ago it came to light that The Ravelympics had received a “cease and desist” letter from the US Olympic Committee asking them to stop using the Ravelympics name. They said that the name falsely suggested a connection between The Official Olympics and this crafty activity and that is a violation of intellectual property rights.

This seems ridiculous to me personally on many levels. I personally find it absurd that any large organizations pursue legal action against small crafters. So when an Etsy business gets pinged because they sell “Angry Birds” and aren’t officially allowed to do so, I find it absurd. But I get it. I may not agree with it, but I get the intent behind intellectual property laws and the reason that a large company might not want a small business making money off of their hard work. But The Ravelympics doesn’t generate any profit for anyone. It doesn’t even use any sort of trademarked imagery from The Olympics. For example, it’s not like the crafters are competing to see who can knit/ crochet the most Olympic rings or something. As an extra, the cease and desist letter did also ask for specific patterns using that type of imagery to be taken down, but the main target of the letter was just the Ravelympics name.

But okay, so I find it absurd that The USOC would bother with this action but that’s not why The Ravelympics issue has received an outpouring of attention from crafters. The reason for that is because the USOC used wording in its cease and desist letter that really made fun of crafters. They said things like, “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.” Ouch. Just wrong and offensive on so many levels.

Well, there was a big response from the crafting community. (We are a huge, huge community.) The power of social media and Internet communication was leveraged and the USOC was forced to respond. They issued a statement saying that they are a non-profit organization that gets funded through donations and their sponsors pay for the right to be associated with The Olympics so they have to make sure no one else is using that name. They go on to apologize to the knitting community for insulting them (us, because of course crocheters are part of Ravelympics, too) and then say that they’d love to show their support by welcoming handmade items for their teams to travel with for the Olympics. Wow. This clearly shows that they just don’t “get it” when it comes to crafting. Most of us don’t want to use our time and skills to craft something for someone who clearly doesn’t appreciate it, right? (As an aside, if you do want to donate to The Olympics despite all of this news, an alternative to sending them your handcrafted materials is to donate a stitch to the flags for Team USA, one of the sanctioned projects associated with The Olympics).

Moreover the phrasing of the USOC apology comes across as condescending. They don’t say, “hey, we get it, clearly your crafts don’t “denigrate” The Olympics and we were wrong in saying it. What they say is more like, “we didn’t mean to call you out for denigrating The Olympics since you silly crafters didn’t seem to know that’s what you were doing”. And that’s where the crux of the issue is for a lot of people – the problem isn’t that the USOC wanted The Ravelympics name changed but rather that they didn’t want something as “silly” as crafting to be related to The Olympics. And much of the media about the issue has gone on to use stereotypes about knitters and crocheters (where crochet is even mentioned, of course) that reiterates the idea that crafting is just this silly endeavor.

Now I should say here that I tend not to get too wrapped up in “issues”. I have my beliefs about these types of things (and many other things) but for the most part I have a really “live and let live” mentality. I believe that The Ravelympics have a version of this story, the USOC has a version and every blogger and journalist reporting on the issue has a version and the “truth” lies somewhere in the middle of all of that. Meaning that I’m not the type of person to send nasty letters to the USOC or even to say outright that they’re 100% wrong in their handling of the issue. It’s tough to run any organization and I believe most people do their best most of the time.

That said, I did want to share the story of what’s going on here because it’s really touched a raw nerve in the crafting community and there’s a reason for that. Any time that crochet and knitting get this big in the news is a great opportunity for all of us to look at how our craft is viewed, represented and talked about so that if we disagree with that then we can use our own forums to raise awareness of the issue. In other words, if you find it offensive that many people out there think that needlecrafts are just a silly way that old women waste their time (and that knitting and crochet are the same thing, for that matter) then now is a really good time to speak up about it because the issue is right in the public eye.

It’s Not Just The Ravelympics That Got Pinged

So, I’ve gone over The Ravelympics thing but I just wanted to take a moment to point out that The Ravelympics aren’t the only handcrafter’s thing that’s been targeted by the Olympics this year for intellectual property right violations. And it’s not just the USOC that’s at fault here. In fact, I first found out about things like this happening before any of this Ravelympics stuff started when I saw a post over on the SIBOL blog about the donated Olympics blanket that was the target of The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG).

So basically, SIBOL takes donated crochet and knit squares around certain themes and puts them together into blankets. Some blankets are donated to nursing homes. Others are sold through auction to raise money that goes to helping to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and other age-related memory loss. Last year SIBOL donors (called SIBOLETTES) came together and made a Royal Wedding Blanket that raised a nice sum of money for the cause. The Olympics are even more popular than The Royal Wedding was so it only made sense to put together an Olympics blanket. Crafters sent in their squares and it was enough to make a huge beautiful blanket of 130 squares as well as some smaller blankets for donation:

SIBOL crochet blanket 400x300 Overview of the Olympics, Ravelympics and Trademark Protection Issues in the News

Well, a few of those squares included handmade versions of the Olympics Logo and some other words and imagery related to the Olympics. Because of that The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games contacted SIBOL and said that the blanket can not be sold because it violates intellectual property rights. Sue of SIBOL worked hard to connect with an empathetic human on the other side of the line but in the end the word came down that the blanket could not be sold for donation. Again, it’s not as though someone was trying to sell this blanket for their own profit at the expense of The Olympics games (somehow). The blanket celebrates the Olympics games to raise money for a good cause.

SIBOL is just one group in a long line that have been targeted for takedown by LOCOG. Others include cushions intended for athletes and local businesses trying to add Olympics to their name or just putting together window displays with Olympics imagery. And it’s the same with the USOC which has not just targeted Ravelympics but also groups like Olympets and ROBOlympics, a defunct sports museum, and even a newspaper named The Olympian.

The Lionheart Project / Sanctioned vs. Unsanctioned Art

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All of this news kept bringing to mind for me the cool Lionheart project that crochetdermist Shauna Richardson has done making 3 humongous crocheted lions because that project is part of the UK Arts Councils’ flagship project for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It’s a cool project with amazing crochet work and I don’t want to take anything away from that but it just makes me think about the strange way that large organizations sanction and allow certain projects while punishing others for doing projects in the same vein. Clearly I know that the crocheted lions don’t have The Olympics name attached to them and that the project was commissioned. But I just find it so odd in our society that certain things that go through the right channels are “approved” and then others aren’t. It’s not that I don’t understand the legal issues because I do; I just don’t agree with the underlying foundation behind them on a personal level.

I guess this all just goes back to my “live and let live” attitude. If I were running the USOC/ LOCOG, I would think it was awesome to sanction projects like Lionheart. But I would also see The Ravelympics and think, “oh, that’s cool that they’re doing that”. And I’d see the SIBOL blanket and think, “how nice that crafters put their skills together and The Olympics could help them raise some money for a cause they care about”. I suppose my attitude is the reason that I work as a solopreneur and not a head of a large organization.

Article Source Credits and Resources

I read many, many news articles, blog posts and social networking posts about this issue to find out what it was all about. I gathered all of that information together here. However, there were a few really outstanding sources that summed up the issue really well so I want to credit them here and encourage you to check them out if you’re interested in the topic. The first is Aberrant Crochet who has done several posts keeping readers updated on the issue. She references many related issues throughout the years, includes fun facts (like knitting was actually included as an Olympic event at one point) and in my opinion is the best resource for understanding the full issue. Another good source to check out is Crochet Liberation Front mostly for Laurie’s Open Letter to the USOC which got referenced quite a bit in the news following its posting. And just to keep a balanced opinion, I think it’s worth it to read Yarn Harlot’s take on the whole issue because she explains pretty clearly why the USOC feels like it has to protect its trademark. Regardless of whether or not you agree with it, and knowing that the trademark is less the issue here than the way that the USOC phrased their letter, it’s still good to get some perspective on that part of the issue. If that aspect of the issue interests you, the LOCOG has a FAQ page explaining why some people can use their brand and others can’t. Again, not saying I agree, but it gives you a better overview of the bigger picture from another side.


I encourage you to share your thoughts on this big issue in the comments below. Please remember that this blog prefers to be a positive place. I’m not saying not to share your true views; just to share them in a calm and educated way!

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San Francisco based and crochet-obsessed writer, dreamer and creative spirit!
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