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USOC and Ravelry

I thought I would weigh in on the story that’s gone “viral”, about the US Olympic Committee sending a “cease and desist” letter to the owners of the fiber arts website community Ravelry, about  an event that they’ve held the last three years in conjunction with the Olympic Games.  The event is named “Ravelympics” and there are events held for people to challenge themselves while enjoying the challenges of the Olympic athletes of their respective nations. 

Many years ago the US Congress established the USOC and gave them the “Olympic” Trademark.  Yes, the word.  In The Amateur Sports Act of 1978, and signed into law by then-President Jimmy Carter.  Since then the organization has gone after businesses that have had the world “Olympic” in their name since before that was granted, forced the Olympics of the Mind to change its name (now known as the Oddessy of the Mind I believe), and generally been what many people see as a bully about it all.  There is a *lot* of money involved in the “Olympic brand”, and there are some high-paid salaries as well.  So a good portion of it is certainly about profit.  Yes, it’s not a for-profit organization, but corportate sponsers profit from the association, and certainly those in the organization with rather large salaries do.  But also… apparently if a person or organization has a trademark, if they *don’t* go after every. single. possible. violation. they find, they lose the right to defend it at all.  Or at very least it greatly weakens their position if they do take someone to court.   Chalk that up to common sense is rare in the legal system.  They are not the only Olympic Committee to do this.  Happened in Canada, and apparently this year “London 2012” is forbidden to be used in the UK.  Mostly this applies to any business or commercial purposes.  A private person holding a private party is not of concern, but a business holding a party, even if they aren’t profiting, falls under potential threat I guess. 

My personal opinion is that no one is going to confused the “Ravelympics” with the real deal, and to want them to change their name is silly.  But that’s for attorneys to decide.  Unlike what some Ravelry users feel (though not the majority by any means) renaming the event is not the end of the world, and the USOC did not ask that the event not be held, merely that the name(s) be changed, and had some possibly legitimate concerns about actual trademark violations in the form of patterns that were being sold (that I did not investigate).  Yes, the rings are off-limits.  Again, possibly silly, but… I’m not going to get all up in arms about it. 

However.  It was not just a “we think these things violate our trademark, change x, y, and z.”  The letter went on to express very clearly that the events being held “denigrates” the athletes and their training and efforts.  This is a quote from the letter:

 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.

So… people coming together to challenge themselves with their *own* set of skills to appreciate the sets of skills of the athletes is insulting, and not recognizing of their hard work.  Even though the event actually encourages watching the Olympics, when the audience is down.  I, like many others, was insulted.  Many took it in light that fiber arts are see (particularly in the US) as “women’s pasttimes”.  In particular “old lady pastimes”.   And that our art is not generally seen as useful (“you *know* you can buy socks at Walmart right?”) so for some it stung in to ways, an insult both to the art/craft, and to it or themselves in terms of devaluing “women’s work”.  I did not necessarily take it that way, but still, it was insulting.

I am not, nor will I ever be, an Olympic athlete.  I can appreciate the dedication and training that goes into being such, or any athlete for that matter.  But that does NOT mean that they are in any way “better” than I, or a group of crafters in general are.  They are at the top of their field, so are some of these crafters.  Some people talking about this matter suggested that crafters were actually better than a bunch of sports people, and I do not believe that to be true either.  One is not better than the other, they are different.  Both have good and bad people involved.  There are athletes that try to gain an advantage by using drugs, there are crafters who copy other people’s patterns and sell them as their own, or cut patterns they want out of library books, even steal from craft shows.  Crafters are not inherently more or less noble than any other group.  We can produce pretty and/or useful products, even donate them to charity (many often do).  Athletes answer society’s need for entertainment, and even (in my opinion) perhaps answer a deep need for “tribal” identity and “warfare”.  Many also do things for various charities.  If modern society were to go belly up, both groups would potentially have useful things to bring to a survival table.  So… one not better than the other.  Think of how many more people would find it absurd if it was the other way around, if it was being said that a bunch of sports folks getting together to put forth their best efforts against each other denigrates a group of artists coming together to challenge themselves?

So the outcry began.  Blogs, Facebook posts, tweets.  NPR picked it up.   The thread on Ravelry where the letter was posted so folks would be aware of what was going on grew faster than it could be read.  Some folks discovered that the person’s whose name was on the letter was basically a summer intern.  Which made some people even more angry, and others wonder why he was allowed to put his name on the letters, and did anyone supervising him actually check to see what he was saying?  There were (and still are) calls for The Colbert Report and The Daily Show to pick it up.  There were people criticising the outcry too.  Some said folks did not have the right to be offended.  Even that the owner of Ravelry had gotten what was coming to him by way of the C&D letter.  I agreed with the folks calling for cooler heads to prevail, as some of the comments, particularly against the poor law clerk summer intern, were over the top.  I wanted to see what would come of the whole affair.  I said that I was offended, and I would write some letters, but I waited to see.  I was curious if this was someone who had overstepped their bounds in being insulting in a C&D letter, or… what. 

Surprisingly (to me) an apology came:

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.”

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.”

Just a day after the hubub started!  I was somewhat impressed.  I was less impressed because the original also stated something along the lines of “hey if you want to send us knitted stuff to travel with the athletes, go ahead!” in a manner that came across of “we’re sorry you’re mad, you can send us free stuff!”  It did not appeal to many others either.  So the apologies were edited and updated and then Patrick Sandusky spent a lot of time on Twitter personally responding to people.  Which I think shows a lot of class, at least on his part!

So as someone who was offended and irritated, I have been appeased.  I also hope that the intern learned from this and it will not negatively impact him long term.  More, I hope that it will get the USOC to reconsider making insulting remarks in their “standard C&D letters” (they can think what they want, of course, just keep things polite in official communication).   There is no word yet (and likely won’t be for more weeks) on if “Ravelympics” really is a violation and if the name will change.  And it looked like there might even be some openness to considering some sort of relationship between the Olympic Games and the portion of Ravelry who likes to celebrate along with in the future.  Time will tell.  I certainly didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of reading all the blogs and posts and things on the matter.  Others can go find stuff if they wish to, as well as other fibery issues associated with this Olympics (search Woolsack project if interested).  Since I did post a bit here and there, I thought I would throw my 2 cents out there. 

I do intend to watch the Olympics and enjoy the events that I watch, and not let the issue sully my enjoyment any longer!