The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has been trying to prevent companies that aren’t official sponsors of the Games from using “official” Twitter hashtags such as #TeamUSA and #Rio2016.
Over the last few weeks, the USOC has sent letters to companies that sponsor athletes but don’t have a commercial relationship with the USOC or the International Olympic Committee, warning them against stealing intellectual property.
One of these letters, written by USOC, states: “Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”
The mean-spirited approach is designed to protect sponsors – such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s, GE, P&G, Visa and Samsung – who fork out for marketing presence at the event.
It’s been possible to trademark hashtags in the US since 2013 but the application of trademark law to those tweeting hashtags may be wrong. Indeed trademark infringement occurs when another party uses a trademark and confuses the public as to the source of a product or service that’s being used in commerce. That’s not what happens when you use a hashtag because you may not be selling a product or service, but just making statements on an open forum. How else do you indicate you are talking about the Rio 2016 Olympics without saying #Rio2016?