With visitors from across the globe flooding London to catch a glimpse of the 2012 Olympic Games in recent weeks, a London area cab company planned to attract business by painting the five interlocking rings – the trademarked symbol of the Olympic games – onto their cabs to catch customers’ attention. While the idea did indeed attract customers, it also inadvertently attracted the attention of the International Olympic Committee, which is quite serious about protecting its trademark and is now contemplating legal action against the cab company.
Copyright materials and trademarks are big business and carry with them a great deal of value. Networks, large corporations, and other advertisers pay hefty royalty fees for access to them, and copyright and trademark owners world-wide are keeping a watchful eye on their use.
But it doesn’t take the use of a well-known trademark like the Olympic rings to get you in trouble. Individuals and businesses alike should be careful in this day of easy internet access to photos, images, and other protected materials. The unauthorized use of copyrighted material and trademarks is common, and often accidental. It’s just plain easy and fun to share a good photo online. And the stock photo websites which abound on the internet don’t always make the lines between royalty and royalty-free materials clear to consumers.
Federal law protects copyrighted materials and trademarks with penalties for their unauthorized use reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per use. Be careful when borrowing materials online, and, when in doubt, consult an attorney for legal advice.