So, ah, you might need to re-think that Olympic Games marketing strategy you had planned.
According to a report from ESPN, the United States Olympic Committee has sent out a letter which underlines that brands who don't have sponsorship deals in place with the Olympics can't post about the Olympics due to intellectual copyright restrictions.
The letter states that:
"Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC's trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA."
Evidently, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, brands are, in fact, trademarking hashtags, making them protected property under US law. That means that commercial entities that use those registered hashtags could potentially be subject to litigation.
It's an odd case of law - BuzzFeed published a post looking at the issue back in February, noting a relevant point of interpretation:
"But whether something is a trademark depends on whether consumers understand it as one. A trademark tells you who sells something or distinguishes a product from the competition, like COCA-COLA for soda or AMERICAN IDOL for a singing contest."
Considering this, using a hashtag seems significantly different to using a brand name, and this is particularly relevant around an event like the Olympics, where a heap of people are going to be using the tag to join in the discussion. I mean, that's what hashtags are for, right?
The main focus of the Olympic Committees concern relates to Olympians with corporate sponsors who are not also official Games sponsors. The Committee says that athletes can mention a non-sponsor during the games, and a non-sponsor can support an athlete, they just can't mention the Olympics specifically in their content.
"...a company that sells a sports drink certainly can't post something from the Games on their social media page or website. They're doing nothing but using the Olympics to sell their drink."
Which makes sense - the Olympic Committee is trying to protect the rights of their partner brands - but it's application is less clear when it comes to non-related entities using official Olympic hashtags.
According to Gizmodo, any company whose primary mission isn't media is forbidden from using any pictures taken at the Olympics, sharing, and even re-posting anything from the official Olympics account.
"Does that mean that a non-sponsor can't retweet the official Olympics Twitter account without facing some kind of legal action? I guess there's only one way to find out. Who's going to be the first company to try?"
All in all, it's a little uncertain as to what penalties a brand might see if they were to use an official Olympics hashtag or make specific mention of the event. Will the Committee only seek to enforce such an order on athlete sponsors, or all brands?
To bet safe, you may want to avoid using any Olympic vision or references while still showing your support or seeking to link into the related conversation.
Sportswear company Oiselle, for example, has already started referring to the Games as "The Big Event" to avoid any complications.
While this tweet from Nike pays tribute to British athlete Mo Farah without mentioning the Games specifically.
The International Olympic Committee has a history of enforcing the rights of their partner brands, there are very strict use guidelines around what content non-partners can and can't broadcast during the event.
As noted, it's hard to say, exactly, what this means in terms of enforcement, but it's worth considering in how you approach your Olympic tie-in campaigns.