5 Things worth Knowing ahead of the Olympics

5 Things worth Knowing ahead of the Olympics

Major sporting events like the Olympic Games see a lot of people craving sporting and national pride T-shirts. This puts you in a position to draw on untapped opportunities to provide fans with tees sporting athletic and national designs. It’s no legal picnic, though. Find out what it takes to keep the legal dogs off your heels, and get your designs off the starting blocks by eliminating the tripping hazards of trademark and copyright.

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro take place between August 5th and August 21st, and they pose an immense challenge to designers in the form of trademark and copy protection. Unlicensed providers of merchandise are well advised to remember the old Olympic creed “the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”

To help you bear fruit from your struggles, we’d like to spark your creativity with some inspiring ideas that will hopefully assist you in reaping your share of the bonanza. But first, please take a good look at the images and word marks that shouldn’t be infringed at any cost.

1. Don’t use official Olympic / Paralympic logos

It should go without saying that you are not allowed to use any of these images.

 2. Don’t alter or imitate any of the official images:

In the past, some designs depicting alterations of trademarked images were uploaded much to the chagrin of the IOC. Please take these designs as an example of what you should not try to publish:


3. Don’t use ‘official language’

Similar to the infringement of image rights, using words and phrases subject to trademark law (word marks) are an absolute no-go. Avoid using or illustrating any of these:

“Olympic”, “Olympiad”, “Olympic Games”, “Paralympic”, “Paralympiad”, “Paralympic Games”, “Olympic Games”, “Rio 2016” and “Olympic and “Paralympic Games”.

You can check up on trademarks with e.g. TMview or TESS. The latter offers a flexible filter option to look for special license holders (in this case Olympics) or categories (called nice class, here item 25 for clothing).

4. Concentrate on forms of sport

Focus on designs reflecting the sports popular in the countries of your sales markets. In the US, these are the top 10 most popular Olympic sports:

  1. Track & field
  2. Swimming
  3. Basketball
  4. Soccer
  5. Volleyball
  6. Gymnastics
  7. Cycling
  8. Tennis
  9. Table Tennis
  10. Badminton

This map is also quite interesting to see the most popular sport by country.

5. What else can I do?

If you are passionate about an Olympic sport that may not be among the most popular and you feel like Spreadshirt’s Marketplace could do with some fresh designs of new disciplines such as kite surfing, this could be your time to shine.

What’s your experience with copyright and trademark laws when it comes to your designs?  Have you found a creative way around the legal red tape?  With huge events such as the Summer Olympics, drawing from the experience of others is always a good idea.  Let us know in the comments!



4 comments Write a comment

  1. Several years ago, I tried to publish designs that referenced Boston Red Sox players with using any fonts, colors, names, or images that were copyrightable.

    It was right after the players Jason Varitek (#33) and Tim Wakefield (#49) had retired. My designs, then, each showed one jersey number in a red jersey font, in a white circle with a wide, red border. No player or team names were used; the font was a generic (freeware) jersey font.

    In fact, you’d have to be a decently big fan to recognize that this was a Red Sox player reference at all, because the design emulated what the retired numbers plaques in right field at Fenway look like.

    But these numbers, 33 and 49, don’t appear in right field! The point of the design was to suggest that the Sox should retire those numbers, but they won’t even consider it for decades.

    So to review, my design consisted of a circular shape, a number, and a generic border….

    ….I still got a cease and desist letter (sent to Spreadshirt and CafePress, not to me).

    I don’t get it. No part of that design even CAN be protected by copyright law–the Red Sox can’t own numbers and shapes. It represents something that does not now and likely will never exist. So why should I have to cease and desist just because they have lawyers and I don’t?

  2. Hello Malcolm,

    you are absolutely right. That´s why it´s always hard to create designs because you never know exactly if you maybe hurt any copyrights. Of course we want to avoid any copyright issues and that´s why we are checking every sumitted design. Our article just includes some recommendations from our experiences.

    Kind regards!

  3. Several years ago we tried to create some t-shirt designs highlighting a local university football team. We received a cease and desist order just for using a picture of a building with their logo on it, a big red N. The board of regents had copyrighted the letter N in that font and color and it could not be shown in any way on a for-profit endeavor. You never can tell what an athletic organization may have deemed copyrightable.

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