Jocks vs. the geeks. Men vs. women. The powerful vs. the weak. Though laws are meant to help protect people, seems our world never grows up and invariably “law” is used as a beating stick against those whom it was meant to protect. Gee thanks for being a joy-kill. Is there ever any fun anymore.
The upshot? Seems our dear Ravelympics over on http://Ravelry.com has not only become a “legal” threat to official Olympics intellectual property rights, but apparently a social insult to the Olympics as well.
Seriously. I’m not making this up. Do read on.
I received the news during my long 500 mile drive home yesterday while talking with Laurie, a.k.a. Fearless Leader over from Crochet Liberation Front. She’s already written an elegant and mature open letter response to the US Olympic Committee that you should definitely check out.
I thought about writing one of my well researched and reasonable posts about the matter. But I just can’t bring myself to it. I’m mad. Sputtering mad enough to take time to crochet a granny square or bacon strip to ship off to the USOC in protest. Haven’t decided which yet.
The specifics? Firstly, the US Olympic Committee has sent a cease and desist order to my favorite knitting/crochet social community to stop using the term Ravelympics altogether and rename our games.
To quote from the actual letter:
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.
This alone is not exactly surprising news. After all, it’s not the first time organizations and businesses have been forced to change names on the basis of Olympic trademark “infringements.” Even non-profits have been under fire. Read Now Public’s 2008 article “US Olympic Committee’s history of lawsuits against non profit organisations” for a far more detailed history than I care to address here.
Usually these cases have involved the actual word “Olympics.” Whether a spliced word/name like Ravelympics has ever been targeted before, I’m not sure. I’m not even sure of the legalities. Like really… especially since there is no profit being made and the sole purpose of these yarny games is to support our teams on a world-wide scale. After all, crocheting/knitting, especially by women, during any kind of sporting event, is a very long tradition. Still, I don’t proclaim to be a lawyer and I don’t have a problem in general with a need to protect intellectual property.
But the letter was not a simple generic letter. And the letter did not stop there. Here’s where the crux of the social matter really lies:
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 would have been one thing if the USOC had sent a general letter that said something like – “Hey y’all! Thanks for all your enthusiasm and support! But we need you to change the name of your games. You know, trademark issues and all.” While there might have been disappointment, there wouldn’t have been outrage.
But this is not the approach the USOC took. They used a battering ram where a pat on the back would have sufficed. By claiming our knitters and crocheters are denigrating and disrespectful to the Olympics and their athletes, the USOC has likewise insulted and bullied a large demographic of handmade enthusiasts, largely made up of women. And though I don’t want to leave our “brothers in arms” out of the picture, knitting and crocheting continue to carry a general social slap (at least in the US) as something strictly feminine in nature.
And here’s the kicker. The original founding father of the modern Olympics included knitting in the list of events. Did you know that? Read your own history USOC.
The letter goes on:
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.
That last line is something else to note, a principle that Ravelry is hardly guilty of threatening. If anything, women (and men) coming together around the world to commune simply over the passion to preserve our mutual histories and handcrafts, is pretty something. And it’s genuine. Not a show, not a put on. And it is a skill. On Ravelry, simple folks like you and me come together in peace – over hooks, sticks and a mutual love for yarn.
To give you background, Ravelympics is the name of essentially a set of grass-roots knitting and crochet contests that have been organized via Ravelry groups. These yarny competitions are loosely organized for fun and community enjoyment and held during the Olympic competitions. Knitters and crocheters test their skills and speed, while everyone gathers around their TVs – all around the world – while supporting their favorite Olympic teams and events.
And let me point out, in case it’s not yet clear, Ravelry is an international knitting/crocheting social site. That we join for free. And Ravelympics supports all Olympic teams wherever Ravelry users participate – around the world.
Few social sites anywhere enjoy the kind of amicable and socially driven international relations found on Ravelry, a user website largely populated by women, but populated none-the-less by fiber hand-makers from around the world. Those who choose to learn a hand craft skill vs. simply buying a cheaply made mass-produced product and then share that skill on with others. USOC why would you allow such an insulting letter to be sent? Face it, you were being bullies.
To be fair, the USOC has made an official statement on the matter today, which you can find on their website here: http://www.teamusa.org/News/2012/June/21/statement-from-usoc-spokesperson-patrick-sandusky.aspx.
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.”
My problem still though, is the claim that it was a standard-form cease and desist letter. (It clearly was not.) And the attempt to “show support of the Ravelry community” by asking us to donate handmade goods to them. Really? That’s your token handshake in peace? After the pain and heartache you guys already put the WoolSack community through? I understand some delivery is now possible but only after months of tears and pain. Read the details here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2156560/Olympic-cushions-handmade-athletes-latest-fall-foul-LOCOG-fears-row-sponsors.html
That’s right friends. It’s not the first insult to hand-makers this year. And I’m just simply disappointed in an organization that supposedly represents our mutual interests in world peace and community.
So crochet something and mail it I will. Just like farmers mailing broccoli to the White House. We do not denigrate by knitting and crocheting. We love, we comfort, we preserve our history. Who’s with me? What are we mailing? Granny squares or bacon? I just happen to like the visual of bacon slap.
I’ll be using the address signed at the bottom of the letter:
Brett HirschLaw ClerkOffice of the General CounselUnited States Olympic Committee1 Olympic PlazaColorado Springs, CO 80909