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I Live Near *******, Washington

The Raveylmipics start today. Or rather, they ought to. Instead they have been crushed into dust.

See, the Ravelympics was a fun little idea dreamed up by the people on Ravelry. What is Ravelry? Well, it is the best website I have ever seen. I am not even exaggerating. If you measure a website by how well it serves its user base, Ravelry is the very best in my experience.

Let’s say you see a new knitting book you’re interested in on Amazon, but you want to know what the patterns look like. You go on Ravelry. And then you get interested in one of the patters, but you’d like to see how it looks in a different color, or with longer sleeves, or with added pockets. You just search the projects attached to that pattern; if it’s a popular one, someone has done what you want to do to it, and probably even left helpful notes about how exactly they went about it. And then let’s say you get interested in the yarn they used… I can go on and on. Suffice it to say that if you knit, you needs must also Ravel.

Anyway, the Ravelympics. The idea is that knitters would spend the seventeen days of the Olympics putting on a burst of energy to churn through a lot of projects, all while watching the Olympics, chatting online, and egging each other on. We even “compete” in events like the Lace Long Jump, the Bag-n-Tote Backstroke, or my personal favorite, Baby Dressage.

Harmless, right? Charming, right? Not so, according to the United States Olympic Committee, who sent Ravelry the nastiest Cease and Desist letter you can possibly imagine. Not only did it inform us knitters that we had best keep our mitts off their trademark, but also:

We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among anothers, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.

Is it just me, or does it seem like our society is drowning in toxic levels of bitch?

To tell you the truth, I was almost amused by that particular bit of nastiness, because I knew the USOC would be served out right and proper for it. And so they were. The Ravelers took up arms, made a huge internet stink, and eventually won a weak apology from the USOC, in which they said they’d be willing to accept any hand-knitted items we wanted to send their way. Yeah, that’ll happen.

But what really bothered me—what still bothers me as I sit here preparing to cast on for the newly rechristened Ravellenic Games—is the sheer audacity of the USOC. Can you really trademark a single word, of ancient origin? I mean, I know you can, because they totally did. Should you be able to?

And should you be able to extend that trademark across all businesses, the way the USOC has done? The Ravelympics is one thing, since we are very clearly making a play on the whole concept of the Olympics. It’s a bummer that we have to change it around, but I can at least see the case for it. But should the USOC be able to run all around the Olympic peninsula of Washington forcing businesses to change their names? Should they have been allowed to sue the Washington newspaper The Olympian for trademark infringement? Should their UK counterpart have been able to prevent bakers from decorating cakes with the Olympic rings, to to force the longstanding Olympic Cafe to rename itself the ‘Lympic Cafe, which sounds weirdly medical and unpleasant?

I think they should not. I think this would be rather like Apple going around to all the farmers of Macintosh apples and telling them they had best change the name. Apple has trademarked “Macintosh,” and they are allowed to defend that trademark within their spheres of computers, personal devices, and tech. They’re not allowed to extend it to the entirety of the business world.

But the USOC is allowed to do just that, thanks to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (and its predecessor), which permits them to regulate all use of the word Olympic. Upheld by the Supreme Court, this law is the reason the USOC has such sweeping power.

Power—it’s been talked about a lot in the media lately. The left worries about corporations having too much power. The right worries about the government having too much power.

And I worry, most of all, when the two join together to form an impenetrable, sticky morass of legally protected greed. When the interests of a single corporation are allowed to take on the force of law, there is very little that smaller entities can do to fight them. Those smaller entities wind up losing access to that level playing field that is supposed to be the foundation of the American dream.

It is something far too precious to lose. And yet lost it we have, and in more places than this.

That’s a pretty grim note to end on, and so I will leave you instead with this text from the Cease and Desist letter sent by Jack Daniel’s to an author who had incorporated their trademarked bottle logo into the cover of his book:

We are certainly flattered by your affection for the brand, but while we can appreciate the pop culture appeal of Jack Daniel’s, we also have to be diligent to ensure that the Jack Daniel’s trademarks are used correctly. Given the brand’s popularity, it will probably come as no surprise that we come across designs like this on a regular basis. What may not be so apparent, however, is that if we allow uses like this one, we run the very real risk that our trademark will be weakened. As a fan of the brand, I’m sure that is not something you intended or would want to see happen….

In order to resolve this matter, because you are both a Louisville “neighbor” and a fan of the brand, we simply request that you change the cover design when the book is re-printed. If you would be willing to change the design sooner than that (including the digital version), we would be willing to contribute a reasonable amount towards the costs of doing so. By taking this step, you will help us to ensure that the Jack Daniel’s brand will mean as much to future generations as it does today.

That, folks, is how you write a C&D letter. Nice matters.

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