With the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics less than 2 weeks away, and March Madness not far behind, we once again need to remind our readers that all three are trademarked terms, meaning that their use, particularly for commercial purposes, is limited. We’ve wrote here last year about the use of the term "Super Bowl" in commercials, and about the use of "Olympics" two years ago (here). Our warning then bears repeating now – the trademarked terms should not be used in commercial messages except by authorized advertisers. These advertisers have paid big bucks to be able to say that they are an Olympic sponsor, or that they are having a Super Bowl sale. The holders of these trademarks enforce them rigorously (so that they can get the big bucks from the official advertisers), so don’t risk their use without official permission. See our Super Bowl post from last year for details on how to refer to these events without running afoul of trademark limitations.
As we wrote last year, this does not prevent all use of these terms. News reports about the events can still be given. DJs can still chat about who is going to win the Super Bowl, or about the latest judging controversy in Ice Dancing at the Winter Olympics. But don’t try to commercially exploit these terms (e.g. saying that you are "Springfield’s March Madness station") unless you have really paid for the rights to use the trademarked term. Be careful, as a cute promotional idea can end up costing your station far more than you intended.
Note – 1/29/10 – We have had many questions since we first posted this entry, including the question as to whether the words "Super Bowl", "Olympics" and March Madness" are really "copyrighted" so they can’t be used in local commercials. While we hate to be too legal about it, but the issue discussed above is one of trademark, not copyright law. Copyright covers creative works – movies, books, songs, etc. – while trademark covers the commercial use of words or symbols to represent a product or service, which is what the use of these words are – the identification of the particular events.