Redneck Olympics faces lawsuit over name

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HEBRON — By all accounts, the Redneck Olympics was a huge success.

About 2,600 people attended the three-day event on Harold Brooks’ land last weekend. There were no arrests, and the one ambulance visit was for a bee sting, Brooks said.

But the party ended Monday when Brooks received a call from the legal division of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Brooks said the USOC told him he had to change the name of his event or face a lawsuit.

He was told the word “Olympics” is the property of the Olympic Committee. Brooks said it’s a case of a large group bullying a small businessman.

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“I said, ‘I’m not basing it on your Olympics; I’m basing it on the Olympics in Greece,’” Brooks said.

“I understand we can’t use the word ‘Pepsi,’ but we can use the word ‘soda.’ The Olympics has been around for thousands of years.” He likened it to taking out a copyright on the word “fair” and trying to force the Fryeburg Fair to change its name.

Brooks said trademark law may be on the committee’s side, but “that doesn’t make it right.”

Brooks said he didn’t plan to change the name. “People told me this is the only Olympics they’ll ever go to,” he said. Most of his guests couldn’t afford to fly to the real Olympics, he said, and no one would ever confuse the two events.

“I’m going to refuse to not use that word,” he said. Brooks said the farthest he’d be willing to go would be replacing the “O” in Olympics with a zero. “The ‘Zero-lympics.’ Are they going to say I can’t use numbers?”

Brooks said he hadn’t contacted a lawyer but was willing to fight the matter. “They can drag me into court,” he said Tuesday. “Nobody owns a word.”

It’s not the first time the U.S. Olympic Committee has threatened to sue someone for using the word “Olympics” in a name. Under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the committee has exclusive rights to the name in the U.S. and a responsibility to protect it.

Lindsay Hogan, director of communications for the USOC, said the money the committee gets pays for training and transportation for U.S. Olympic athletes.

The name is “the sole method for us to raise revenue for our athletes,” Hogan said.

According to Hogan, most uses of the word “Olympic” don’t make it to court. “Almost in every instance, we find that those involved are very willing to work with us.”

She said most cases are misunderstandings. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to do that in this case,” she said.

In 2009, a Minnesota band called The Olympic Hopefuls was forced to change its name to The Hopefuls. In 1982, an athletic event called the Gay Olympics changed its name to the Gay Games when the committee threatened a lawsuit.

Some cases do make it to court, however.

The International Institute for Sports and Olympic History in State College, Pa., is currently engaged in a lawsuit. The institute’s president, Harvey Abrams, plans to build a sports library and museum there but has faced resistance from the USOC since 2005.

Last year, during his coverage of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, television host Stephen Colbert referred jokingly to the games as the the Quadrennial Cold Weather Athletic Competition to avoid a lawsuit. NBC had paid for exclusive rights to use terms including “Olympic coverage” and “Winter Games.”

The Special Olympics is exempt because it has special permission from the USOC, Hogan said. 

treaves@sunjournal.com

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