30 January 2006
I take issue with the opinion piece by David Stone (The Lawyer, 20 January) about the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill, which he describes as a "realistic and proportionate response to the increasing problem of ambush marketing".
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) supports the need to protect sponsors against unauthorised associations with the Games, but also recognises the need for a balance between protecting the rights of official sponsors and allowing genuine freedom of commercial expression, as well as the right of local businesses to benefit from this fantastic event. The IPA also questions the misuse of the term 'ambush marketing', which is brandished by many who do not understand its meaning.
The bill proposes to implement new protection - "the London Olympics Association Right" - for the Games that grossly extends UK law to protect a small and specific commercial group. This is far beyond any legislation introduced anywhere in the world previously, effectively banning any association with the Games. The British Olympic Association (BOA) and others dispute this, but in contrast to Sydney the UK already has laws in place, including copyright, trademark, and the law of passing off, as well as the 1995 Olympic Symbols Protection Act and the Misleading Advertisements Regulations, which can be used to take action to protect sponsors and prevent misleading and false associations with the Games.
The new right also involves the reversal of the normal presumption of innocence. All businesses will be guilty of infringing the right unless and until they can demonstrate to the contrary. This goes beyond the IOC's requirements. The new right will also come into force six and a half years prior to the Games commencing and prevent the combination of key words associated with the Games, such as 'summer' and '2012'. It seems to the IPA that the IOC has been allowed to dictate requirements for the Games that intrude and impact directly on UK law without any debate on the rights or wrongs of such power.
While protection from real ambush marketing is of course necessary, it is entirely disproportionate to introduce a new IP right for the benefit of a small multinational business group. Such rights also push up the price of sponsorship and can create feelings of repulsion and distaste by the consumer against official sponsors.
Others have alleged that anyone who speaks against the bill is both unpatriotic and against the Games being a success. This is wildly unjust. The reality is that there will be no difficulty in raising the necessary £500m in sponsorship money.
Finally, the suggestion that local businesses wish to exploit the Games without contributing is also inaccurate; Londoners and local businesses will be paying an estimated £1bn towards the Olympics. The bill will mean that most local businesses will be forced to ignore the event and pretend it is not happening, despite promises by the Government that the Games would benefit us all. Lords from all parties have expressed considerable concern about the proposals and we await the outcome of their deliberations. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has recognised the need for some amendments already and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games has invited the advertising industry and media to discuss the pending regulations and how to implement them proportionally. It is therefore naive and inaccurate of Mr Stone to say that the IPA's opposition to the bill is "misconceived". On the contrary, the bill introduces rights that will have a far-reaching and serious impact on UK law that should not be so readily brushed aside.