London's dystopian Olympics: criminal sanctions for violating the exclusivity of sponsors' brands

As London ramps up for the 2012 Olympics, a dystopian regime of policing and censorship on behalf of the games' sponsors is coming online. A special squad of "brand police" will have the power to force pubs to take down signs advertising "watch the games on our TV," to sticker over the brand-names of products at games venues where those products were made by companies other than the games' sponsors, to send takedown notices to YouTube and Facebook if attendees at the games have the audacity to post their personal images for their friends to see, and more. What's more, these rules are not merely civil laws, but criminal ones, so violating the sanctity of an Olympic sponsor could end up with prison time for Londoners.

Esther Addley documents the extent of London's corporatism for The Guardian:

"It is certainly very tough legislation," says Paul Jordan, a partner and marketing specialist at law firm Bristows, which is advising both official sponsors and non-sponsoring businesses on the new laws. "Every major brand in the world would give their eye teeth to have [a piece of legislation] like this. One can imagine something like a Google or a Microsoft would be delighted to have some very special recognition of their brand in the way that clearly the IOC has."

As well as introducing an additional layer of protection around the word "Olympics", the five-rings symbol and the Games' mottoes, the major change of the legislation is to outlaw unauthorised "association". This bars non-sponsors from employing images or wording that might suggest too close a link with the Games. Expressions likely to be considered a breach of the rules would include any two of the following list: "Games, Two Thousand and Twelve, 2012, Twenty-Twelve".

Using one of those words with London, medals, sponsors, summer, gold, silver or bronze is another likely breach. The two-word rule is not fixed, however: an event called the "Great Exhibition 2012" was threatened with legal action last year under the Act over its use of "2012" (Locog later withdrew its objection).

The London Olympic bid insisted that these restrictions were necessary to get the sponsors, and of course, they were bidding against other cities who were also making promises to police their residents' free speech and personal expression. Each games' sponsor doubles down on the previous games' restrictions and surveillance, which suggests that by 2020, the winning bid will include a promise to imprison all non-attendees for the duration of the games, and permanently tattoo sponsors' logos on the faces and chests of all ticket-buyers.

Olympics 2012: branding 'police' to protect sponsors' exclusive rights


  1. While I realize that the term “Race to the Bottom” originally referred to an emergent socio-economic policy of market deregulation, I think we might have found an equivalent here in the systematic dismantling of our civil rights.

    “Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power.”
    ~ Poor Richard’s Almanack

      1. Actually, I have always felt they should give a medal to the last place finisher.  Maybe tin and the person has to kneel next to the platform.

        1. In the Tour de France they call it the lantern rouge, “red light,” referring to the red light on the caboose of a train, to denote the person who finishes in last place.

  2. “If we did not take steps to protect the brand from unauthorised use and ambush marketing, the exclusive rights which our partners have acquired would be undermined. Without the investment of our partners, we simply couldn’t stage the Games.”

    Oh, wouldn’t that be a shame.

    Wait… I really don’t care. Playing victim ’til you get your way is a shameful tactic, particularly when “your way” is draconian laws that benefit only you.

    Why is this a criminal matter? Is there any reason *at all* why playing brand-police isn’t the IOC’s job? Because they can’t afford it? Cry moar.

    1.  We can’t afford them either way, this way we’re just losing slightly less money.  I agree though, really, who cares?  The winter Olympics are at least interesting enough to watch and tend to take place in places that have the per-existing facilities to host them.

      1.  No, Winter Olympics require massive construction of facilities that will soon become crumbling, under-used, liabilities – just like the Summer ones.

  3. “…so violating the sanctity of an Olympic sponsor could end up with prison time for Londoners.”

    What about people who don’t live in London?

    1. I believe that brand violations are tried in the Hauge and we do time in exra-national brand prison where we’re forced to drink Dr. Skipper and Mountain Mist.

  4. The world needs to join me in boycotting the Olympics.  It’s about money, not sports.

        1.  The Olympics has just become so offensive. Whiny lawyered up athletes they like to strut about calling themselves heroes, it’s all so disgustingly over marketed.
          What’s pathetic is that gold medal winners are now peddling some of the lamest crap because they have become c grade marketing tools, it’s no lying it’s acting.

  5. Utterly unworkable and unpoliceable (is that a word?), all this does is make me determined to come up with an Olympic-themed project to publish online. 

    I think I have the very project…

  6. This reminds me of what the Winter O1ym9!c5 did to my beautiful Vancouver two years ago. A billion dollars wasted on security (think about how much money that is- this would have paid 20,000 people $50,000 each for the games). One of the nicest parts of the downtown waterfront behind bars and off-limits for the duration. 100km of the Sea to Sky highway was expropriated for VIPs. What bothered me as much as anything is the sense of entitlement that VANOC had. They never even apologized to the majority of Vancouverites for whom the whole circus was nothing but a massive inconvenience. A fun party for those with corporate and VIP passes – an expensive, inconvenient mess for the rest of us.

    These a$$holes won’t get another $ from me for anything if I can help it.

    (And they scared away the snow!)

    1.  If you want to see stupid… they’re building a massive wall along the cost so that you can’t sit on the hillsides and watch the sailing events for free… we’re getting Zill lanes in London so members of the Olympic Family can be swept through the jams to the events in the official BMW cars… another thing that is rankling an awfull lot of us over here is how many foreign brands are doing the sponsoring… BMW? Come on… it should have been Jaguar or Range Rover at the very least… oh and apparently, it’s just been revealed that all the drivers of this fleet of BMWs are volunteers… doing it for free…

  7. You can call me crazy, but I’m not going to give a flying monkey poo about this sweaty carnival of jingoism. At least not until they introduce Titration as an olympic sport.

        1. 64% from central government, 23% from the lottery and 13% from the Mayor of London and the London Development Agency. That’s good of him, isn’t it?

          1. In other words:  64% from the people (taxes), 23% from the people (the so-called tax on those poor at math/statistics), and 13% specifically from the people of London (taxes).

    1. Every time I hear about another Olympics coming around, I think wow, already? Didn’t we just have one of these?

    2. The fact is, it is this type of attitude that is prevalent, and denigrating for our society. The point of the games is to come together for world events. To compete with and meet people from other countries and try to appreciate those who are different than ourselves. The point is to, for a few months every few years, make an effort to act as one human race in friendly, competitive sports.

      The fact that so many feel it incumbent upon themselves to bad mouth the efforts of the thousands of Olympians world-wide with such a mean spirit is, frankly, embarrassing. 

      However, there is no question that the games have been turned into a circus that has done far more damage to its reputation than good. Who wants to care about an Olympic event when we don’t even care about those who spend their lives training to represent us to the world. But to make matters worse, their efforts become ignored or hated by the general population because producers and sponsors leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth just to make a buck.

      I realize that every generation, as they age, sees societal changes as a degeneration of the “good old days” but for me, this goes far beyond any change that has happened from when I grew up until today. This is, sadly, a world with an increasingly bad attitude, prideful, narcissistic bloat and apathy of an entire population of people who really don’t give a damn about anything other than their own interests.

      1. The fact that so many feel it incumbent upon themselves to bad mouth the efforts of the thousands of Olympians world-wide with such a mean spirit is, frankly, embarrassing.

        Antinous: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
        Roxanne: Yes, sir.
        Antinous: Are you listening?
        Roxanne: Yes, I am.
        Antinous: Exploitation.

        1. exploitation of whom, exactly? I was referring to the general apathy in society today, in which we seem to no longer have pride in things that matter as a human race, but are more intent on sitting in our own homes with our blinders on, ignoring anything that is mildly unpalatable or different.

          1. Of course the irony here is that the Olympics want to put blinders on YOU so you can’t see anything Olympic-related that hasn’t given a kickback.

            ignoring anything that is mildly unpalatable or different

            Wrong website.

      2. The point is to, for a few months every few years, make an effort to act as one human race in friendly, competitive sports.

        Like the 1936 Olympics, where the Olympics were used as a stage to try and demonstrate Aryan superiority? Or the cold war games when they were used a geopolitical tool by the east and west as demonstrations of which side was “better” by athletic competition?

        I long for the good old days that never existed, when they really were about individual athletic prowess, and not a tool for political theater or an advertising meme to sell more soda pop. May those good old days actually exist someday.

        Blaming all of society for not buying into the “purity of athletics” nonsense that those who stand to make fortunes off of the games try to sell us as “prideful narcissistic bloat and apathy” makes me think you may not have considered the totality of what the modern Olympics games have become.

        If it looks like a manipulative, exploitative scam and walks like a manipulative, exploitative scam………

  8. I’ll pass on them.  They don’t really interest me in the least and I got to live through it when they came to Salt Lake City in 2002.  One of my buddies referred to the games as ‘the rich man’s party’ and that is pretty much what it is now.

    1.  What if Boing Boing found companies that aren’t official sponsors of the Olympics and got them to sponsor the website to *not* post news about the Olympics? Would Boing Boing be legally justified in using the word “Olympics” in their promotion of this sponsorship? “We have nothing to do with the Olympics! (Sponsored by Kickstarter.)”

      Could a bar in London do this? “We don’t have anything to do with the Olympics, come here to watch football and cricket. (Sponsored by Boing Boing.)”

  9. I wonder if the other shoe to drop is that the laws stay in place even when the Olympics leave?  There’s already plenty of corporate sponsorship in London, there’s only going to be more in the future, and now — in the absence of any constitution or bill of rights — there’s an established precedent for the powers sponsors have over the British public.

      1. I encourage everyone to read the link you provided, since it explicitly supports exactly what I said.  Calling the express absence of a constitution proof that a constitution exists is a bit strange to me, but whatever floats your boat.

        I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with anyone over “whose country has a record on civil liberties that’s slightly less bad than the other country” — but I will say that, for all my country’s failures in that area, our constitution is the very thing that’s made it possible to correct any of those failures.  As bad as it may seem at times, without that document things here would be a LOT worse.  So yes, the U.S. model of explicitly spelling out the rights of individuals against the majority (or elected representatives thereof) has worked pretty damn well, all things considered.

        1. Ah, I see you like using the word “constitution” when anyone who actually knew what they were talking about would say “codified constitution”. Good for you.

      1. it is a feudal legend of an Englishman’s liberties, nothing more than a primitive parchment blog by some rich and powerful people complaining about other rich and powerful people.

        1. Magna Carta is the beginning of the legal restrictions on the power of the Monarch and the beginning of a discourse, not the end. What part did slaves play in the composition of the constitution? Is the constitution the beginning or the end? Neither our Mediaeval nor our Enlightenment forbears could have foreseen the changing relationship between wealth and money which is at the root of power struggles between government and people.

        1. Which is also how they try to sneak SOPA and the like through.  Don’t worry about it, it’s foreign relations stuff, go back to watching American Idol, it doesn’t affect you.

          It overrides domestic rights and laws and can never be changed no matter who you elect to your congress, senate, parliament, whatever.  No, you can’t read it, but don’t worry, it doesn’t affect you.  Trust us.

  10. I hope you will all join me in celebrating the “Ol’ limp pics 2012” event later this year.
    We do foresee some problems as the logo is a goatse of discoloured rings but we stand firm by the notion that even though all men were not created equal, everyone deserves a drip tray.

        1. It’s funnier to imagine the Greeks being nude all the time and then Romans being such super prudes and rewriting history to say otherwise. 

  11. [Imbibe libations in this establishment whilst directing your optical senses towards glowing rectangles depicting Greek history-inspired competition.]

    “Olympics? No officer, that sign is advertising a viewing of the movie 300!”

  12. The Olympics has become a microcosm of the problems of the world at large. At the bottom you have a bunch of really talented athletes who have been sold a bill of goods about how great and glorious a thing participation in the Olympic games is, and the rules of the game specifically prohibit these folk, the supposed reason for being of the Olympic games, from making any money from their talent in return for the “privilege” of participating. Feeding off of these talented people like vultures are the genuinely privileged ubermensch like the director of the USOC, earning between 250k and 500k/year in service of these “amateur” games, and all of those whose real support for this bastion of athleticism for athleticisms sake is the enormous profits they see from buying up all of the marketing rights surrounding the event. The argument is that the Olympics need to sell these rights so that the athletes can perform, but the money is only needed to create the marketable spectacle packaged and sold to generate profit. The athletes could compete without the sideshow, and it would cost very little since they, the core of the moneymaking spectacular, get paid nothing.
    Those at the top make fortunes off of the efforts of those at the bottom of this scheme, while those at the bottom are lucky if someone covers their room and board while they train. And those making the money manipulate the taxpayers of the host location to cover any potential losses.
    It seems a disturbingly familiar pattern.

    1. …the rules of the game specifically prohibit these folk, the supposed reason for being of the Olympic games, from making any money from their talent in return for the “privilege” of participating.

      That hasn’t been true for two decades: “After the 1988 Games, the IOC decided to make all professional athletes eligible for the Olympics, subject to the approval of the IFs.”

      1. Strangely enough, that’s about when I stopped paying much attention to the Olympics. So some of the non-compensated participants make money from their talents in other venues. Good.

        1. I think that it’s just so that the IOC can make more money by having the basketball, for instance, have an NBA all-star team instead of amateurs.

          1.  It came about as a result of complaints that Russian athletes were totally state-sponsored and were, in the eyes of amateur athletes seeking sponsorshp and funding, professionals.

      2.  …and that was the point at which I stopped watching the Olympics entirely. Watching professional US basketball players on the “dream team” high-fiving each other after beating the crap out of 16-year-old eastern Europeans was simply embarrassing.

  13. I wonder if it will be possible for visitors to the Limpics to request videos of themselves in or near the various venues.  Everyone is videotaped on closed circuit TV *everywhere* in London, perhaps even in the bathroom in your hotel room.  It was a very spooky city already, and it will now outdo anything that Orwell imagined in 1948.  Pity the poor slum dwellers whose neighborhoods have been seized for this spectacle.

  14. I wish this were an extended April Fool’s joke. Britain is leading the way in demonstrating how to eliminate the commons.

    Boycott £ondo^ 0_¥mp|cs 2000 & 10+2

  15. There’s a wee flub in Cory’s post. The first example of verboten text (“watch the games on our TV”) has the appearance of quoting the Guardian article, thus properly adding fuel to the righteous fire. But, according to the small look into the rules the Guardian article gives us, this “watch the games on our TV” phrase would appear to pass muster; the actual phrase used in TFA — “watch the London games on our TV” — would not. Just sayin’…there’s plenty of -1 in the original; no need to Doctor-ow that text for max outrage.

  16. In London, a dystopian regime of policing and censorship on behalf of the games’ sponsors is coming online.

    Never fear, Coldplay will surely play at the opening ceremonies, making everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside, omg ponies!

    I’m sorta shooting myself in the foot here, as Underworld is one of my all-time favorite bands, and they were named as music directors for the Olympics.

      1. LOL, good one, and you forgot Brian Jones.
        But yeah, Coldplay will do the Olympic song at the opening ceremonies.

        Even if they didn’t, I’d still mention them here because they have a lukewarm (inoffensive to the corporate overlords), self-absorbed, feel-good air about them.
        During Live8 the lead guy emotionally stated that it was “one of the most important days in human history”, or something along those lines.  Cool story, bro.

  17. I wonder why everyone harps on about the US becoming a police state, when the UK seems to be doing a jolly good job at already being one on an increasing number of levels.

  18. If only they made also the exclusive sponsors financially responsible for the debt of the Owelympics, like the one related to build single use athletes village, single use sports venue, etc.

    But no. It seems like a silver lining given to these sponsors.

  19. Seems fairly easy to avoid in an entertaining manner – have everyone use increasingly elaborately constructed euphemisms for the games – “Enter and electronically observe the sports event whose name we’re not allowed to say!”

  20. I was working with a client, doing PR and strategy, that were a sponsor of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The rules on branding, trademarks, logos etc. were an insane nightmare. To begin with,  the entire thing was so disorganized it was impossible to get a straight answer on any question. There were so many layers of different people involved in everything it was like a joke about bureaucracy from a Dickens novel.

    At one point during the games, we put out an ad campaign that was a good humored but slightly sarcastic dig at the entire games, and featured fake athletes dressed in generic sports gear representing the various Olympics sports (ie people in ski jumpsuits, figure skating costumes etc.)  Several hours after the campaign appeared we were deluged with angry emails and phone calls from the IOC. Basically, they threatened to revoke our sponsorship, and sue us, because they felt the way we portrayed the games in the ads didn’t fit with the image they wanted to put across. We were paid sponsors as well, who had sunk millions in cash to be an “Official” part of the games. I can’t imagine the reaction they would have to someone supposedly “infringing” on their intellectual property or trademarks.

    Overall, working on the Olympics was one of the most negative encounters I’ve had in my professional working life. It was clear from Day 1, that the Olympics were only about money. The IOC treated the athletes really poorly (with a few exceptions for the really famous ones who could draw in some ad bucks). They had no interest in doing anything remotely interesting culturally or intellectually. They had zero respect for the spectators who traveled from around the world, and paid ridiculous sums of money to see events in person. Everything about working with the Olympics was shady (and I work in PR, so I know shady). From the inside out, the Olympics are just a sham to make money for a select group of people who run the show.

    1. According to my mum, who heard it on a phone-in on BBC Radio 4, part of the reason so many people in the UK don’t care (or dislike) the Olympics is because they can’t see where the money is being spent.  Small businesses all over the country are doing work for the games, but because they’re not the multinational sponsors, none of them are allowed to say so.  
      The antipathy might be countered if Independent-Printing-Company in Hull were allowed to put a small Olympic logo on their vans and letterhead, and show they are employing 10 extra people for a year or two.

      (Also, I found out about the first people I know who got tickets.  They’re McDonald’s executives.)

  21. Here’s hoping they have to lock up half the athletes and a third of the spectators to enforce their rights. That might actually be the wake-up call the industrialized world needs.

    Otherwise, seems like a good year to visit Buenos Aires.

  22. It would be great to see Banksy make a public statement or two during the Olympic games. Here’s a relevant quote from him:

    “People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you. You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity. Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”

    1. I’d like to see a resurgence of the Billboard Liberation Front move to London for the next 6mos. Maybe a Kickstarter campaign could do it!

  23. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I wouldn’t give up my eye teeth for anything.

    Except maybe ear fingers.

  24. A sign in every window in Great Britain: OFFICIAL HOUSE OF THE 2012 OLYMPICS

    What would they do, arrest everyone?

  25. Wow, I’m glad I’m not giving any money to the Olympic movement this summer, in any form.  I sure won’t be watching it, either.

    Personally, I hope that everyone who’s dissatisfied with this produces a “Festival Fringe” that puts the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to shame, and takes place everywhere the Olympics aren’t.

  26. Ha ha! Please don’t sully the bread and circuses! 

    They’re required so the majority of you will capitulate to that whole perpetual boot-in-the-face-of-humanity thing. 

  27. The Olympics should be hosted at Olympia in Greece or as close to it so not to spoil the original runes there, its got the nice weather and its the home of the Olympics and it would be a massive boost to the Greece economy even when the games are not on with tourists.

    All countries joining in should chip in a bit of the cost of keeping and updating the games there that way one country does not suffer the massive cost of games and using existing facilities that would be built then maintained/upgraded it would cost much less.  With everyone one splitting the cost there would be no need for sponsors of any kind keeping the games pure and free not spoiled like they are now.

    No country that has hosted the games can claim that it has help in the long run, every place that has hosted it is worse off now than before the games even years later.

    Sadly with so much corruption and ego boosting for politicians wanting to be the one who got the games to there country the above will never happen.

  28. To push back against this sort of thing, print out this article and mail it to Olympic sponsors along with a note saying that you’re boycotting them because of this heavy-handedness.

  29.  I have a yellowed copy of Frederik Pohl and C M Kornbluth’s «The Space Merchants» (3rd printing, March 1960) on my bookshelf. Who says the future cannot be reliably predicted ? Pity we don’t have a Venus rocket on which to escape….


  30. I went to the Sydney Olympics and it was amazing.. I suppose I’m lucky it was before 9/11 but it’s shocking how crappy the Olympics have become.

    Remember when the London 2012 countdown clock failed on the first day? Hope that isn’t a sign of what a roaring success the games will be.

  31. They did all this in Vancouver too. It’ll pass and in return you will have an even better CCTV system to be watched on. 

Comments are closed.