Agencies are running the risk of having to pay thousands of pounds in
damages if they use the Olympic rings in ads without official
On the eve of the opening of the games in Atlanta, the British Olympic
Association has threatened a number of shops with legal action for
alleged misuse of the symbol.
Now the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising has issued an urgent
warning to member agencies to take care or they may face the prospect of
an expensive lawsuit.
The British Olympic Association’s rights to the logo are safeguarded by
the little-known Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act of 1995.
Not only does the act forbid the use of the symbol or an approximation
to it without consent, but it also imposes curbs on words such as
Olympic, Olympian and Olympiad, which can only be used if the advertiser
does not imply an association with the games.
The only companies entitled to use the symbol are approved Olympic
sponsors and those that have bought merchandising licences.
Several IPA member agencies have received letters from George Nicholson,
the British Olympic Association’s appeals secretary, warning them that
they are in breach of the act.
Philip Circus, the IPA’s legal affairs director, said: ‘We’re doing all
we can to advise members of the implications of this legislation but
it’s quite clear to us that a number of agencies run a very severe risk
The IPA’s fear is that many agencies could fall into the legal trap
because of the rush of tactical advertising likely to run throughout the
‘An agency may find itself liable to civil proceedings in which a judge
could set damages at the amount it might have cost the agency had it
applied for a licence,’ Circus said. ‘That could amount to several
thousand pounds. There’s a lot of legislation like this that can hit an
agency without warning.’