Friday, June 22, 2012

Ravelympics Controversy

Yesterday, I logged onto Ravelry, one of my favorite sites.  I logged on to check something on a pattern and to see if any of my forum posts had gotten any replies.  But mostly, I logged on to check information about my favorite Ravelry tradition, the Ravelympics.

What is this Ravelympics?  Well, it's an event held to coincide with the Olympics, where knitters, crocheters, and other fiber artists make a commitment to watch the Olympics while challenging themselves to create a project that tests and enhances their skills.  Much like the Olympic athletes do when they participate in the Games.  But there was a message from Casey, one of the site's founders, on the main forum that made my heart sink.  This letter was from the US Olympic Committee.  Here is the text of this letter:

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.
1. 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.
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 HirschLaw ClerkOffice of the General CounselUnited States Olympic Committee1 Olympic PlazaColorado Springs, CO 80909
Take a look at that passage in red.  That's what has fiber artists around the globe so angry.  How dare they say that us practicing our craft in honor of the teams we support in anyway denigrates them?  I would love to know what the actual athletes think.  I believe they would agree with the spirit of our games, the desire to create something that pushes our skills to their limit while watching them push theirs to the limit as well.  Their reward may be a medal.  Ours is a finished project we never thought we could finish, and a sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well-done.  
After this letter was released into the community, members of the more than 2 million strong social network took to other social networking sites to make sure their voices were heard.  Facebook and twitter were flooded with comments, as were blogs all over the world.  Media outlets began to pick up the story, including MSN, Gawker, and Hot Air.  But that wasn't the end.  The Olympic Committee, realizing the language in their "standard" cease and desist letter was insulting to millions of people all around the world, decided to give a half-hearted apology:

Statement from USOC Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer Patrick Sandusky:

“Thanks to all of you who have posted, tweeted, emailed and called regarding the letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics.  Like you, we are extremely passionate about what we do. And, as  you may know, the United States Olympic Committee is a non-profit entity, and our Olympic team receives no government funding. We are totally dependent on our sponsors, who pay for the right to associate with the Olympic Movement, as well as our generous donors to bring Team USA to the Games.  The letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics was a standard-form cease and desist letter that explained why we need to protect our trademarks in legal terms. Rest assured, as an organization that has many passionate knitters, we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.  We apologize for any insult and appreciate your support. We embrace hand-crafted American goods as we currently have the Annin Flagmakers of New Jersey stitching a custom-made American flag to accompany our team to the Olympic Games in London. To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games.”

Once again, read the passage in red to understand why members of the fiber arts community did not accept this apology.  You insult our craft, apologize for any insult, and then ask us to send you our handmade items?  The items that took us years to learn how to make?  The items that take hours to create?  I don't think so!  After this apology, a new firestorm started on the Olympic Committee's facebook page and twitter, sparking new articles from different news organizations.  This time, the New York Times got involved, as well as NPR and Yahoo Sports.  PR Daily also weighed in, and Gawker took another swipe at the story as well.

Another apology from the Olympic Committee: 

Statement Update:

"As a follow-up to our previous statement on this subject, we would again like to apologize to the members of the Ravelry community. While we stand by our obligation to protect the marks and terms associated with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements in the United States, we sincerely regret the use of insensitive terms in relation to the actions of a group that was clearly not intending to denigrate or disrespect the Olympic Movement. We hope you’ll accept this apology and continue to support the Olympic Games."
My own response to the foolishness, posted on the US Olympic Committee's facebook page yesterday: 
As a knitter, a member of Ravelry, a past participant in the Ravelympics, a public relations professional, and a fan of the Olympics, I have to voice my opinion here. Your letter and subsequent apology are both insulting. It makes me wonder if you have anyone who is responsible for public relations, because that person would surely have said something before these documents were released. Or at least, someone worth his or her title would have. With two documents, you have managed to insult more than 2 million people. That seems like a PR crisis to me. And it's not about the copyright issue. It is about the insinuation that practicing our craft in honor of the games is somehow detrimental to the games and the athletes themselves. 

I will watch the Olympics, because I love the games and I support Team USA with all my heart. I will knit while watching. I will be calling it the Ravelympics. You may be able to make the site change the name, but you can't change what we call it in our hearts and our minds. And you can't change the fact that we do what we do to honor a community we love (Ravelry) and a team we support (Team USA or whatever team each individual Raveler decides to support.)
I think the important thing to remember is that when you give someone too much power, they will abuse it.  Is the US Olympic Committee going to go after every organization that uses the letters -ympic in their name?  It wasn't the Ravelry Olympics.  It wasn't the Knitting Olympics.  It was the Ravelympics.  Does the committee own these letters in this configuration?  I'm not sure the trademark goes that far.  And the other important thing to remember is that you should never mess with 2 million people who routinely use pointy sticks.  And the Internet.

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