With the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro only a matter of a few months away, I am sure that we will see a fabulous range of balloon decor and designs to celebrate this awesome world sporting event. I am sure that in many cases it will be a replication of the Olympic rings. I recently did an image search on the internet using the keywords Olympic, Rings, Balloons, and the page filled with many different interpretations of this iconic symbol made with balloons.
So, my question is, are we legally allowed to reproduce trademarked characters and logos such as the Olympic rings?
The 2012 Olympics were held in London, U.K. There were several reported cases of small businesses getting into trouble by the Olympic committee. A florist was asked to remove "tissue paper" rings from her shop window. A butcher who had created a sign depicting the Olympic rings as sausage links was told that if he did not remove his sign that he would get into a lot of trouble. Even an elderly lady who had embroidered the Olympic rings onto a doll's outfit to sell for charity was informed that it would be against the law for her to sell it!
The reason why the Olympics goes after businesses so aggressively, no matter how small, is because they have a worldwide sponsorship program that costs the sponsors millions of dollars. By law, you are taking money out of the pockets of these companies, and when it comes to money, companies can get very serious.
It is not only the Olympic rings; all the Olympic logos are protected, along with official expressions and words, such as “Olympic” and “Olympiad.” Even the words “Rio 2016” are protected!
It is not just the Olympics we need to be aware of. There are other very famous symbols and characters that we can easily get into trouble for copying or reproducing. The “Oscar,” for example. The Academy, as the owner of the “Oscar” statuette and other trademarks and copyrights, is required to protect its properties against unauthorised uses and infringements. Creating an “Oscar” statue out of balloons is a nonstarter.
When it comes to designing decor for a party with a recognised theme such as an “Oscars” party that could possibly get you into trouble, simply find ways to change it. “Hollywood Nights” or “Movies Awards Night” would be good substitute names and there are so many exciting things that can be made to reflect this theme without having to recreate the iconic statue.
And finally, there is Disney and other film makers enticing us all with their fabulously popular characters! There is a great article on Balloon HQ called “Copyrights, trademarks, and balloon art,” written by Larry Moss. Larry goes into great detail about when and when not to recreate well-known characters. If you have any doubts about what you are making, then I suggest that you read this extremely informative article.
If you are hired by a brand, I would still ensure that you have written agreement or authorisation from them to re-create their logo or trademarked design.
Selling licensed and trademarked characters or logos without permission and a legal agreement with the owner is a big no-no. You can end up in big trouble, so you need to decide if it’s worth the risk.
If in doubt always check!