Parody Meet TrademarkLast month, Twitter suspended an account that parodied the London 2012 Olympic Games and used a redesigned 2012 Olympics trademarked emblem. The account holder agreed to remove the trademark image from the site, but Twitter had already removed the account.

As a spokesman for Space Hijackers told The Guardian, “Our latest project is to do with the Olympics and obviously they have got an official chocolate bar and an official TV and the rest of it and we thought what they were missing was an official set of protesters.” The Space Hijackers website reports that Locog, “[t]he unelected body in charge of the 2012 Olympic Games confirm our status as official Protesters!”

Wait—this really is a parody Twitter account, so is it legal to pull it? The short answer, from a trademark perspective, is “yes.” The London 2012 image and the words “London 2012” are protected trademarks of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act of 2006. According to a London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) spokesman, the Act will continue to cover these trademarks even after the games are over. But by the end of 2012, the British Olympic Association will resume  responsibility for protecting the Olympic brand in the UK. The legal odds are clearly not in Space Hijackers favor.

Twitter Hijacks Handles for Trademark Infringement

Locog first contacted Twitter in May and raised concerns that the ‘Space Hijackers’ account is violating Twitter’s Trademark Policy. The Twitter micro-blogging website then suspended the account because it had used a redesigned London 2012 logo in red and black in a way that could confuse or mislead people into thinking the account was related to an official Olympic sponsor. After it suddenly lost its account, Space Hijackers responded to Twitter, agreeing not to use the problematic trademarked emblem again. Twitter then reactivated the account, which now uses a different image. Problem solved? Not really, it’s just been kicked down the road a bit.

Twitter has a formal dispute process that a brand owner can use to report potential intellectual property issues. Locog used the trademark policy to police and protect its marks, instead of more expensive options, like an infringement lawsuit. In fact, brand owners are behind the curve if they aren’t taking steps to ‘listen’ to others use of their marks across social media platforms and step in, when appropriate, to stop uses that violate the owner’s trademark rights.

But what type of enforcement procedure is appropriate where parody or a protest account is concerned? Immediately after the account was taken down, Twitter exploded with tweets supporting the Space Hijackers protest group. Wired Magazine, The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, and other news outlets quickly covered the deactivation decision with gusto and criticism. This is a classic example of the “Streisand effect,” on steroids.

What if Locog had instead reached out to @SpaceHijackers and interacted with the group through Twitter? Perhaps Locog could have issued public Tweets mentioning that the Space Hijackers account is an unofficial but good-natured protest account and gather more Locog fans for its even-keeled trademark enforcement and brand awareness activities. And does anyone really think that the Twitter handle Space Hijackers is associated with the 2012 Olympics?

I don’t mean to insinuate that Locog was wrong to police potential trademark confusion issues. But some trademark protection efforts involving social media can tarnish goodwill more than they protect it. This is especially true if those activities don’t take into account the culture and personality of the users on the relevant social media platform. Now, more than ever, trademark enforcers need to wear their pragmatic hats. I’ll leave you with a few words of wisdom, courtesy of @SpaceHijackers:
@spacehijackers twitter

Nice touch with the TM indicators.

Cloudigy Captain Peyton out.

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland