While the world celebrates the Olympics, misuse of #hashtags on social media has taken centre stage as many businesses could find themselves in hot water

Legal proceedings have been filed in the District Court of Minnesota against the United States Olympic Committee over its alleged threats against businesses that use Olympic-themed hashtags¹.

The complaint concerns the approach of the Unites States Olympic Committee to discourage use of various Olympic-themed hashtags (eg #RIO2016) by businesses on their corporate social media accounts during the Olympic Games.

The concerns raised by the United States Olympic Committee are directed at the hashtags being used in a commercial way without its permission². The International Olympic Committee is the registered trade mark owner of various RIO 2016 device trade marks in the United States.

What is the position in Australia?

In Australia, the International Olympics Committee is also the registered owner of a RIO2016 device trade mark (number 1415554). Use of #RIO2016 on a business social media account could be seen as directing consumers to the goods and services of the business and therefore trade mark infringement.

A corporation must also not,

  • in trade or commerce,
  • in connection with the supply of goods or services, and
  • in the promotion of the supply of goods or services

make a false or misleading representation that the person has a sponsorship, approval or affiliation they do not have³.

Using certain Olympic-themed hashtags on your business social media account could falsely represent to a consumer that your business sponsors a particular player, team or event and if this is untrue, the use of the hashtag could be misleading.

Are Olympic expressions protected?

In addition, certain Olympic expressions such as “Olympics” and “Olympic Games” are protected under the Olympic Insignia Protection Act 1987 (Cth). In Australia, a business cannot use a protected Olympic expression for commercial purposes, without a licence or consent from the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC). This includes use in relation to the goods and services of your business, for advertising or promotional purposes, and which amounts to ‘sponsorship-like support’ of the Olympic Games, the Australian Olympic team or a member of the Australian Olympic team.

Key points

It would be difficult to use Olympic-themed hashtags such as “#OLYMPICS” or “#OLYMPICGAMES” on your corporate social media page without contravening one of the pieces of legislation above given activity on your corporate social media page is designed to advertise, promote or sell your goods or services.

If, as part of your business advertising, you are contemplating engaging in promotional activity during the Olympic Games using Olympic-themed hashtags, you should consider obtaining a clearance on your advertising to ensure it does not contravene third party rights or amount to misleading conduct.

Otherwise, it may be best to support our Olympians from your personal social media account..