Knitters Outraged After U.S. Olympic Committee Squashes Knitting Olympics—and Disses Knitters

If you mess with the Olympics trademark, a cloud of legal hurt will descend on you faster than Tyson Gay in the Men's 100 meters. Case in point: The U.S. Olympic Committee has sent a cease and desist letter to a knitting-based social network for hosting a knitting "olympics." Now, knitters are in revolt.

2012 was to be the third year that the knitting social network Ravelry—yes, this exists and is surprisingly popular—hosted a "Ravelympics," a knitting competition for users that includes events like an "afghan marathon," and "scarf hockey." Knitters were supposed to compete in their events while watching the actual Games on TV.

But that was before the U.S. Olympics Committee got wind of it and sent Ravelry a cease & desist, for making a mockery of the Games with their needlework. Here's a passage from the letter, sent by the USOC's general counsel and posted by Ravelry founder Casey Forbes to his blog (Ravelry account required):

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 at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them.

[…]

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.

Yeah, Ravelry, do you want to make olympic athletes cry with your dumb knitting olympics? If you wanted to dignify athletes, your Olympics should also accept millions of dollars in corporate sponsorship from Dow Chemicals. But the USOC has a case: In 1982, the "Gay Olympics" were sued and the United States Supreme Court ruled that the USOC had exclusive rights to the word Olympics, and anything vaguely related to the word "Olympics".

The online knitting community is in uproar: "2 Million Knitters with Pointy Sticks are Angry at the US Olympic Committee," wrote knitting blogger Exchanging Fire.

Some took exception to the idea that knitting is a less noble pursuit than table tennis: "I don't think it takes nearly as much effort to knit a sweater than it does to be picked for the Olympics but that doesn't mean that sweater knitting (or whatever) isn't as impressive," wrote Vanessa, of the blog Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts.

Here are one of the hundreds of tweets from Ravelry's 2 million users, from Clara Parkes: "Oh no they didn't: @USOlympic just suggested that knitting 'denigrates' Olympic brand. The 1 in 3 Americans who knit just got really angry."

The USOC is demanding Ravelry change the name to the "Ravelry Games," but we say: Why not make knitting an Olympic sport instead? Pair up knitting a baby sweater with target shooting and make it the summer version of the biathlon. Those would be some Nike ads.

Update: The U.S. Olympic Committee has apologized—twice!—to knitters.

Here's the full cease and desist, which also includes a few Olympics-themed patterns submitted by users:

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.

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympics-rings-af...\

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/vancouver-2010-ol...

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/2010-olympics-inu...

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympic-swimmer-d...

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/2008-olympic-ring...

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/olympic-rings-nec...

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/bode-miller-hat-2...

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/usa-olympic-hat

http://www.ravelry.com/projects/belgianwaffleknit/usa-oly...

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 Hirsch

Law Clerk

Office of the General Counsel

United States Olympic Committee

1 Olympic Plaza

Colorado Springs, CO 80909

[Image via Brad Day/Flickr]