Almost exactly five years ago, I joined a wonderful site called Ravelry, a community site focused on knitting and crochet. Back then, the site was small… only a few thousand members at most. The site was marked “Beta”, though everything worked better than many of the commercial community sites at the time. Since then, the site has grown by leaps and bounds.
Today, Ravelry has almost 2 1/4 million members from over 200 countries. The scope of the site has increased to include weaving and spinning yarn. It hosts databases of over 300,000 patterns and nearly 100,000 yarns, nearly 25,000 groups that cover a wide variety of regional and topical interests, and has allowed members to share nearly 5 million projects (along with notes, yarn choices, needle sizes, etc.).
The most amazing part of the site is seeing the generosity and good will of people from vastly different cultures and regions. On more than one occasion, I have run out of the materials that I needed or been unable to find the pattern that I want. Upon sharing my dilemma on Ravelry, I’ve magically received what I needed, often without any charge at all. In return, I’ve been able to help others out of tight fixes. I’ve been able to learn from people that I likely will never meet in person. Because of that, I’ve become a much better knitter and started to develop some skills as a weaver… all without attending a class or even leaving my couch. While the site does have the occasional troll, grifter, and drama queen, it has generally become an example of what the world could be if everyone could just find a common cause.
In 2008 and 2010, Ravelry hosted the “Ravelympics”, a series of “events” intended to increase viewership and support of the Olympics while challenging fiber artists to attempt projects that might be beyond their current level of ability. I have participated in both, not because I thought that accomplishing my “Ravelympics project” made me an Olympic athlete, but because finishing gave me a small victory of which I could be proud. (It’s HARD to complete a big project in a couple of weeks!) My project also gave me a good reason to sit through watching lots of events that I otherwise wouldn’t have watched.
I was really looking forward to the Olympics and the corresponding Ravelympics. I’ve purchased yarn for a special project that will be a true challenge of my skills. I went to the cable company to get a newer cable box that would allow me to record more Olympic events. I was clearing away all of my other projects so that I could be free to concentrate on the Olympics.
That ended yesterday when the creator of Ravelry posted the following letter from the US Olympic Committee (I’ve added boldface text for emphasis of certain passages):
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, Ravelry.com’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 Ravelry.com’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.
Office of the General Counsel
United States Olympic Committee
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
I understand wanting to defend copyrights, especially when the profits from those copyrights helps our Olympic athletes. However, the people who want to protect the copyright (USOC) are trying to wield power over people over whom they hold no jurisdiction. (Can the USOC really force Russian, Chinese, or Bulgarian members to play by their rules? Those members could care less about the US Olympic team!)
It also seems a bit short-sighted. The idea of the Ravelympics is to get people to support their country’s athletes MORE. That should, in turn, lead to more viewership, which should, in turn, lead to more people using the products and services of those who advertise for the Olympics. It’s one of those awesome win-win situations! It’s like recruiting a faithful audience (no matter how much Bob Costas rambles on and on and on and on and on).
Instead, we have a group that says that they want an “amicable” solution but are instead insulting and pompous when they have no reason to be. The letter could have said, “We own the copyrights to these symbols and words. Please comply by this date.” and be done with it. Instead, it seeks to make sports seem like the end-all, be-all to existence and fiber arts seem frivolous and stupid.
What the writer of the letter doesn’t consider is that many of those fiber artists HAVE “trained” even longer than many of the athletes have been alive. Those skills have to be honed as well. Very few of the Olympic athletes could do as well with knitting a sweater or crocheting an afghan. If you asked them to spin yarn, they’d likely look at you like you had grown a second head! Fiber artists deserve respect… Actually they deserve MORE respect, because they work at their craft WITHOUT cheering crowds, medals, company endorsement deals, and the adoration of millions.
The reality is that there isn’t a single Olympic athlete ANYWHERE in the world who is going to feel belittled because a bunch of people are partaking in knitting, weaving, crochet, and spinning events. There are a few Olympic athletes who may be fiber artists, but the athletes are concentrating on their events, travel arrangements, family matters, etc. As long as they get to compete, they could care less what else happens. Their “entire lives of training” and “hard work” demands that they focus on the business at hand… not a bunch of fiber artists who are celebrating the athletes’ efforts in their own way!
I feel sorry for the creators of Ravelry. They are caught in the middle, and they’ve done nothing to deserve it. Those pins that were sold during the previous Ravelympics resulted in thousands of dollars that was donated to the Special Olympics. They truly have created a site that supports and demonstrates the ideals of the Olympic Games:
“The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.”
It’s too bad that the USOC’s narrow-minded and arrogant pursuit of money doesn’t allow that to be recognized and encouraged.
For more grinchy tricks from the events that must not be named, check out this kick in the (wool)sack!
UPDATE: (June 21, 2012)
Today, USOC Spokesperson Patrick Sandusky posted this lame attempt at an apology:
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.
This has the ring of the claim “I’m not a bigot. I have African American friends.” They’re having a hand-made flag made. Whoopee! It doesn’t mean that they support hand-made goods. (It likely means that the Annin Flagmakers are giving them the flag for free and/or paid a certain amount to be the “official flagmaker”.)
These USOC clowns are definitely going on my “non-knit-worthy” list!
ANOTHER UPDATE: It turns out that the USOC is selling “stitches” on this hand-made flag at $12 each! Hilarious!