As if the Rio Olympic Games needed to be more of a catastrophe. A small carpet cleaning company in Minnesota is taking the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to court over its overly stringent social media policy. The USOC announced last month that non-sponsors are banned from tweeting about the Olympic Games, or even using hashtags like #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.
“They’re doing what many would call trademark bullying and trying to chill free speech because many are afraid to infringe the Olympic trademarks,” Aaron Hall, CEO of the JUX Law firm, which will represent the company Zerorez in their lawsuit, told Gizmodo’s Matt Novak.
This seemingly random floor cleaning business in Minnesota is suing for the right to root for the home team. “They’re very engaged with social media,” Hall explained. “They felt very concerned about being censored on social media, especially at a time when we’re going through a time of pain and negativity.”
Hall insisted that the Olympic Games offer the perfect opportunity to overcome the country’s negative feelings about race, terror, and the election. But the USOC’s stringent rules ruin this opportunity.
The suit will be filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday. It is up to the court’s discretion whether to act before the games start on Friday, August 5. Even if the court makes a ruling during the games, it is not clear that the ruling would apply only to the carpet cleaning business or to businesses in general.
The rules are indeed draconian. Any business which is not a sponsor of the Olympic Games cannot use trademarked words or phrases, such as “Olympic, Future Olympian, or Go for the gold.” They cannot retweet official Olympics accounts, publish results from the games, nor even wish luck to specific athletes. They cannot even host Olympic-themed contests or team-building events for employees.
At what point does protecting the trademark become a violation of free speech? These restrictions violently cross any such lines, according to Hall.
Even if the court’s ruling does not effect the rules during this version of the games, it may set a precedent for future Olympic Games. This carpet cleaning business and their law firm seem perfectly ready to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, Gizmodo reported.
Perhaps this case, if nothing else, will awaken the Olympics to the outdated nature of their rules and push long-overdue change. This small carpet cleaning company may spur this traditional anti-advertising organization into the bustling media world of the Twenty-First Century.