London 2012 is finally upon us.  Hang up your bunting, wave your Olympic flags and wear your five ring tee-shirts with pride but, be careful, the Olympic Big Brother is watching you.

In years gone by, colourful shop displays, incentive promotions and the odd dodgy screen print tee-shirt were all part of the experience of a big sporting event.  London 2012, however, is a very different proposition.  Specific legislation has been passed to prevent ‘ambush’ marketing (where an unauthorised person seeks to take advantage of the high media profile of an event, team or individual, at the expense of another company’s official association with them, without paying any licence or sponsorship fees).

The idea, of course, is to protect the investment made by the big brand sponsors in the Olympic event.  Where the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi or McDonalds and Burger King are concerned, it may well be thought that this is fair enough.  However, the legislation which has been introduced by the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (“Act”), has implications for businesses and traders of all sizes.

In simple terms, the Act, in addition to ratifying certain rights of association generally with the Olympics, (the Olympic Association Right (“OAR”) and the Paralympic Association Right (“PAR”)), also creates a new right granting exclusive rights to the use of any representations in a manner likely to suggest to the public an association between the London Olympics 2012 and any goods or services or a person who provides such goods or services (the London Olympic Association Right or “LOAR”).  If you are not authorised by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (‘LOCOG’), you cannot suggest any association with the London Olympics.  Even the use of certain words, such as “Games”, “Two Thousand and Twelve”, “Gold” or “Silver”, particularly when used in combination, could fall foul of the Act.  Similarly, the depiction of Olympic venues, use of the five Olympic colours or the use of an Olympic torch design could land you in trouble.

A breach of the Act could result in a claim for damages, an account of profits, an injunction and seizure of goods by LOCOG.  In certain circumstances, relating to goods, criminal proceedings may be brought, punishable by a fine of up to £20,000 in the Magistrates’ Court or an unlimited fine if the case is serious enough to be heard in the Crown Court.

The Act has far reaching implications for those wishing to take part in the Olympic experience.  Olympic tickets cannot be used for promotions or competitions.  Unless you are an official sponsor or have permission from LOCOG, you may not produce merchandise which is related to the Olympics.

All in all, whilst appreciating the commercial drivers behind the legislation, one does wonder whether it is really necessary to place local traders at risk of prosecution in the event of them putting up an Olympic themed window display, for example.  The days of the Derek Trotter “London Olympik” tee-shirt have well and truly gone!

John Andrews, Principal, SRB LLP