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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury. . .

Like Two Million Knitters Scorned.

Yesterday afternoon, around lunchtime, a thread was started by one of the founders of Ravelry to let all site members know about the recent letter from the USOC regarding Ravelry's use of the term "Ravelympics" and events scheduled to coincide with the Summer Olympics Games.  For those who are not on Ravelry or don't wish to go here, I'll include the text of the letter below:

Dear Mr. Forbes,
In March 14, 2011, my colleague, Carol Gross, corresponded with your attorney, Craig Selmach [sic], in regard to a pin listed as the “2010 Ravelympic Badge of Glory.”  At that time, she explained that the use of RAVELYMPIC infringed upon the USOC’s intellectual property rights, and you kindly removed the pin from the website.  I was hoping to close our file on this matter, but upon further review of your website, I found more infringing content.
By way of review, the USOC is a non-profit corporation chartered by Congress to coordinate, promote and govern all international amateur athletic activities in the United States.  The USOC therefore is responsible for training, entering and underwriting U.S. Teams in the Olympic Games.  Unlike the National Olympic Committees of many other countries, the USOC does not rely on federal funding to support all of its efforts.  Therefore, in order to fulfill our responsibilities without the need for federal funding, Congress granted the USOC the exclusive right to use and control the commercial use of the word OLYMPIC a and any simulation or combination thereof in the United States, as well as the OLYMPIC SYMBOL.  See the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. §220501 et seq. (the “Act”).  (A copy of the relevant portion of the Act is enclosed for your convenience.)  The Act prohibits the unauthorized use of the Olympic Symbol or the mark OLYMPIC and derivations thereof for any commercial purpose or for any competition, such as the one organized through your website.  See 36 U.S.C. §220506(c).  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.
In addition to the protections of the Act discussed above, the USOC also owns numerous trademark registration that include the mark OLYMPIC. These marks therefore are protected under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1051 et seq. Thus,’s unauthorized use of the mark OLYMPIC or derivations thereof, such as RAVELYMPICS, may constitute trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of our famous trademarks.
The USOC would like to settle this matter on an amicable basis. However, we must request the following actions be taken.
1.  Changing the name of the event, the “Ravelympics.”;  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.
It looks as if this is the third time that the Ravelympics have been organized, each coinciding with an Olympic year (2008, 2010, and 2012).  The name Ravelympics is clearly derived from the terms “Ravelry” (the name of your website) and OLYMPICS, making RAVELYMPICS a simulation of the mark OLYMPIC tending to falsely suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement.  Thus, the use of RAVELYMPICS is prohibited by the Act.  Knowing this, we are sure that you can appreciate the need for you to re-name the event, to something like the Ravelry Games.
2.  Removal of Olympic Symbols in patterns, projects, etc.   As stated before, the USOC receives no funding from the government to support this country’s Olympic athletes.  The USOC relies upon official licensing and sponsorship fees to raise the funds necessary to fulfill its mission. Therefore, the USOC reserves use of Olympic terminology and trademarks to our official sponsors, suppliers and licensees.  The patterns and projects featuring the Olympic Symbol on’s website are not licensed and therefore unauthorized.  The USOC respectfully asks that all such patterns and projects be removed from your site.
For your convenience, we have listed some of the patterns featuring Olympic trademarks.  However, this list should be viewed as illustrative rather than exhaustive.  The USOC requests that all patterns involving Olympic trademarks be removed from the website.  We further request that  you rename various patterns that may not feature Olympic trademarks in the design but improperly use Olympic in the pattern name.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.  We would appreciate a written reply to this letter by no later than June 19, 2012.  If you would like to discuss this matter directly, please feel free to contact me at the number above, or you may reach my colleague, Carol Gross.
Kindest Regards,
Brett Hirsch
Law Clerk
Office of the General Counsel
United States Olympic Committee
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
Well, to say that all hell broke loose would certainly be an understatement.  It appears that the Twitterverse exploded.  In the past 24 hours, it has exploded all over blogland, and have even been picked up by NPRThe USOC Spokesperson Patrick Sandusky has apologized, and, as I have been writing this, has apologized for his apology because people were still offended.

I get some of the offense, considering these words were used (emphasis mine):

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.
I can't see how knitting while watching, and enjoying, the Olympics could be considered disrespectful.  Now, I've never participated in the Ravelympics because I'm a slow knitter and don't like the challenges (plus I'm not interested in watching the Olympics), but from what I understand about how it works, you choose a project that is going to be a challenge for you, cast on during the opening ceremony, and work hard to be finished by the closing ceremony.  It sounds a little more like a celebration of the Olympics.

However, I think the level of indignation and anger thrown towards the USOC (not to mention the law clerk who wrote that letter) went far and beyond what was required.  Here are a few links to searches of certain terms in that thread.

A general witch hunt for the signee of the letter, Brett Hirsch.  This included his email address, office phone number, Twitter account name -- all of which were thankfully removed by the moderators of Ravelry.  I did not cross check to see if any of the people who called the USOC "bullies" were any of the same people who posted his contact information, and/or actually called him.  Yes, people CALLED him.

Random talk of "protests".   Yup, people were talking about protesting.  People were talking about going to the USOC's headquarters and knitting in front of it, in protest.  (As an aside, I wonder if any of these are the same people who say that the Rubberneckers have no lives.)

The talk about protests brings me to the absolute pinnacle of WTFery in this whole mess -- two posts that I was smart enough to screencap:

These two are comparing having to change the NAME of the Ravelympics to the Civil Rights Movement?  They are comparing themselves to Tommie Smith and John CarlosDO THEY REALLY THINK THAT HAVING TO CHANGE THE NAME MEANS THAT THEY ARE BEING OPPRESSED????  I guess a few people were determined to disrespect the Olympic athletes, after all, or at least disrespect a couple of them.

My friend Jodi said it the best:  "There's a difference between being pissed off and insulted and forgetting that you're a privileged white woman who was just slammed by a lawyer and drawing a parallel between a slight and decades of social & institutional subjugation." (used with permission)

People, seriously, get some perspective here. 

The Twitter campaign with the hash tags of #ravelympics -- AWESOME IDEA.  For real.  I think it peaked at number 6 on Twitter.  Posting about it to your blogs, Facebook, etc. -- ALSO AN AWESOME IDEA.  Visibly and publicly harassing the people who seem to have caused you such incredible pain and torment?  NOT SUCH A GOOD IDEA.  I think a few people on Ravelry may be a tad bit unhinged.  Thankfully, the site owners are NOT responsible for content and actions of site members but, if need be, they may be required to provide personal information in case someone decides to do something really crazy.

For what it's worth, though, this is GENIUS:

8:55 p.m. update:  I just read the Yarn Harlot's blog, and was very happy to read it.  I'm not a regular reader, but I do respect her point of view.

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