The answer depends on who you are: For consumers there is little risk involved. Companies, however, did receive letters by the German Olympic Committee in recent weeks warning them about stealing intellectual property, similar to the letters send by the United States Olympic Committee. In particular Twitter accounts should not reference any Olympic results, share or re-tweet anything from the official Olympic account, or use official hashtags including #Rio2016 or #Team.

The letter send by the German Olympic Committees is part of an attempt to prevent so-called “ambush marketing,” where companies who are not official sponsors of a major event like the Olympic Games associate themselves with this event in an attempt to gain additional attention for their products or services. The Olympic Committees argue that money from sponsors and licensees who pay for the rights allow them to support athletes to go to the Olympic Games.

Potential legal issues

In addition to German Trademark Laws, Germany enacted the Olympic Protection Act (Olympiaschutzgesetz) aiming to restrict the use of the official Olympic logo or Olympic descriptions during the 2004 bid to host the Olympic Games. Pursuant to the Olympic Protection Act the usage rights to such Olympic signs and descriptions are exclusively granted to the German Olympic Committee as well as the International Olympic Committee. The scope of these laws is usually restricted to the use of the protected signs and symbols to promote goods and services of a specific company and does not cover uses without a commercial background. In addition, the hashtag ‘#Rio2016’ might not even fall within the scope of the Olympic Protection Act as it makes no direct reference to the term ‘Olympic’.

Further, pursuant to the German Trademark Act the Olympic Committees’ trademarks might be infringed as the International Olympic Committees owns an EU trademark to ‘Rio2016’ (as well as to ‘Olympic’, ‘Olympian’’ among many other words and phrases). As a trademark infringement occurs “when another party uses a trademark and confuses the public as to the source of a product or service that’s being used in commerce” it its questionable, whether a ‘#Rio2016’-tweet by a company constitutes a mere descriptive use of the word or sign and to what extent the EU trademark lacks a distinctive character.

Overall takeaways

Even though this is the first Olympics in which the IOC has relaxed its long-standing Rule 40, in which non-sponsors and athletes can’t mention their relationship in and around the Olympic Games, whether and to what extent the use of Olympic words and symbols might infringe a third party’s intellectual property rights needs to be carefully assessed pursuant to the relevant trademark laws and special laws like the Olympic Protection Act.