Here’s an interesting article from this weeks Georgia Straight. I haven’t seen any of the ‘art’ in question, and it’s too bad they didn’t post it alongside the article, but I would like to. Please send me an email or even better yet post any of the images you find in the comments.
Do Olympic rings bind art?
Publish Date: 26-May-2005
didn’t take long for Vancouver artists to start spoofing the 2010
Winter Olympics. Within days of the unveiling of Illanaaq, the happy
inukshuk, two graphic designers sent their parodies to the Straight.
Vancouver artist Craig Calvert redesigned the logo as Pac-Man, a hockey
goalie, and Terrence from South Park.
Don Strom picked on
Illanaaq, too. “A lot of people didn’t like the process for choosing
the logo,�? Strom explained to the Georgia Straight. “When they chose
the logo, I felt a disconnect from it. I wish they wouldn’t have chosen
Inuit art, and it didn’t seem right that an Inuit person didn’t create
it. For my cartoon, I used the Voice of Fire [a painting by American
abstract artist Barnett Newman, controversially acquired by the
National Gallery of Canada for $1.8 million in 1991] in place of the
inukshuk, with the words Vancouver 2010 below. I felt a similar
disconnect between the two events.�?
Both Calvert and Strom
did their jobs as artists: they parodied a cultural symbol to encourage
viewers to reconsider its meaning. It sounds innocuous, but in fact, it
may be illegal.
A memo on VANOC’s Web site,
www.vancouver2010.com/, explains the restrictions on unauthorized use
of Olympic symbols, including the rings, the torch, and other images.
Trademarked words and phrases include Olympics, Olympiad, Olympian,
Vancouver 2010, Canada 2010, 2010 Games, Countdown to 2010, and even
the number 2010 itself.
The memo warns that unauthorized use
of words or symbols that may be confused with the Olympic brand, on
“Web sites, signage, written materials or merchandise�?, can result in
“legal action in order to protect the Olympic Brand. This could include
court orders for the seizure of unauthorized merchandise and the
payment of damages.�?
In Canada, the Olympic brand is
protected by the 1976 Olympic Act. It allows any Canadian Olympics to
establish—through the trademark—“the foundation for a vast expansion of
marketing programs aimed at…‘self-financing the games’,�? according to
the 2002 book Selling the Five Rings: The International Olympic
Committee and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism (University of Utah
Press). Olympic organizing committees can raise funds by allowing
companies to buy the right to use Olympic symbols on marketing
materials, and to buy into the games as principal sponsors.
memo warns that “Any unauthorized use of the Olympic Brand threatens
VANOC’s ability to establish a successful sponsorship program and raise
funds necessary to host and stage the 2010 Winter Games….Any deficit
[generated by the 2010 Olympics] will be the responsibility of the
Province of British Columbia.�?
In other words, the Olympics
is going to cost a lot, and VANOC depends on corporations such as Rona
to bail out taxpayers who may otherwise get stuck with the bill. So
don’t screw with the rings’ image.
Before the 2000 Sydney
Olympics, Australian art lawyer Sally McCausland grew concerned that
Olympic trademark law limits the freedom of artists. “The legislation
potentially gives the AOC [Australian Olympic Committee]…the power to
prohibit protest art incorporating Olympic insignia on a range of
articles including t-shirts and perhaps even billboard posters,�? she
wrote in the journal Art+Law. As an example, McCausland related that an
artist had “distributed free t-shirts on behalf of Animal Liberation
Tasmania. The t-shirts carried a design ‘depicting a hen in a cage with
five eggs….’ SOCOG [the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic
Games] sought and obtained an injunction restraining any further
reproduction or sale of the design, and delivery up of all the
remaining t-shirts. The fact that the t-shirts were distributed free
for ‘donations’ was not a defence.�?
Canada is not Australia, so
the judgment isn’t a precedent in this country. However, a duplicate
case has not been tried in Canada. We don’t know how protest art—or any
other kind of art that reflects the Olympic brand—would be viewed by
our courts. As fair comment? Or worthy of a fine and seizure of
To an SFU social-movement historian, these questions
just affirm what he already believes about the Olympics. “There’s been
a transition from ugly politicism to ugly corporatism,�? Mark Leier told
the Straight. He explained that in 1896, the modern Olympics started
because France wanted to regain its national pride after losing the
Franco-Prussian war. Since then, the games have been used politically
by the Nazis, and by both sides during the Cold War. “What’s different
now is the large interest by the corporate sector; sports entertainment
and sporting goods have become big business. The Olympics is a
commodity like any other. It’s sold through advertising and TV rights.�?
warned that this is bad news for artists. No one will argue that
artists can criticize governments, he explained. Using trademark laws,
however, corporations can effectively curtail public criticism—as they
did with the McLibel lawsuit in Britain.
Echoing his comments
was Vancouver blogger Jill Hayhurst. In December, she berated VANOC for
cracking down on a Summerland coffee company owner who sold bags of
“Olympic Dreams�? coffee to raise money for a local skier to attend the
2006 Olympics. Hayhurst also alluded to the Denman Street Olympia Pizza
debacle, in which VANOC tried to force the 15-year-old company to
change its name and signage, because it contained the five rings and
But until a Canadian artist pushes the boundaries
of the fine border between fair comment and Olympic trademark law,
Leier said we won’t know exactly what’s legal and what isn’t.