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Charities: don't mention the Olympics in 2012

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With one year to go before the 2012 Olympics start, you can be sure that plenty of charities will be thinking of running Olympics-themed fundraising events to tie in with this significant festival of sport. But they might be well advised to steer clear of any mention of the Olympics or Paralympics because of the stringent laws in the UK that restrict the use of words, names or signs that refer to these events.

If they get it wrong charities could face an injunction, be required to pay damages, and face criminal proceedings if there has been a sale of goods, which might well describe the process of fundraising.

Of course, as the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), points out, "The value of the London 2012 brand is vital to the funding of the Games" and efforts need to be made to protect it.

However, if you think that the restrictions are the standard ones about not using the Olympics or Paralympics logo and related trademarks, the mascots, the motto, the Team GB logo, the web address, or not implying in advertising that your fundraising event is part of the Olympics, then you would be wrong. The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, which adds to the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995, goes much further in its restrictions.

According to it, LOCOG has the rights to protect from misuse by 'unauthorised persons' some very generic words, many of which you can imagine fundraisers including in their promotional material. For example, if you use two of the following 'category 1' terms you could be infringing LOCOG's rights: Games, Twenty twelve, 2012, Two Thousand and Twelve.

Or, choose one of those words and add in one from 'category 2' and you could be committing the same offence: gold, silver, bronze, Medals, Summer, Sponsor, London.

So, if your charity was planning on running some 'Summer Games', encouraging supporters to go for 'gold in 2012' in their events, or encouraging companies to become a 'Sponsor in 2012' then you might want to think again.

Charities should be aware that even the phrase 'Summer 2012' should be avoided. This surprising combination was highlighted by charity law specialists Bates, Wells and Braithwaite LLP (BWB), who have today advised a number of charities about the restrictions that they face.

In BWB's view, the rights enjoyed by LOCOG are "extremely broad", adding "many in the legal and marketing sectors believe they go far beyond what is necessary to protect their legitimate interests in the Olympic and Paralympic names and imagery".

Will charities face legal action in the coming year? There is no reason why LOCOG would be more lenient towards charities who appear to them to be cashing in on the valuable Olympic brands. Many charities are also limited companies or undertake trading through a limited company subsidiary so the distinction might not be appreciated by LOCOG's lawyers.

LOCOG is granting some not-for-profit organisations limited rights to use certain of the Games' Marks through its London 2012 Inspire programme, its Get Set Network for schools, and its Cultural Olympiad.

Charities found to infringe LOCOG's rights outside of these networks will therefore be even more likely to be on shaky ground.

LOCOG says that "We know that people will express their excitement in a variety of ways and do not want to stifle their enthusiasm", so aims to "help people understand what they are allowed to do" rather than resort to legal action every time. But of course, it adds: "Formal court proceedings will always be a last resort but, where necessary, LOCOG will take legal action to resolve the matter."

Which words can charities and businesses use? Apparently it is safe to refer to 'an Olympic-size swimming pool', and other 'honest' statements that are not made for promotional purposes.

So don't go for gold in 2012 if you are a charity, unless your lawyers are faster, higher and stronger than those of LOCOG.