Getting legal education from a fake news program is always dangerous, but a recent episode of the Stephen Colbert Show, here, nicely demonstrated trademark law. The clip illustrates what we have written before, that the term "Olympics", like "Super Bowl" and "March Madness" are trademarked, and attempts to use them in commercials or promotions, or to otherwise imply that a product or program is associated with one of these events, can lead a broadcaster into legal trouble and potential liability. The Colbert program shows Stephen discussing with his brother, a trademark lawyer, Stephen’s ideas for associating his program with the Olympics and, when his brother consistently rejects the plans, Colbert tries to change the 5 ringed Olympic symbol to five interlocking triangles, and other symbols that are similar, and Colbert is told that each is likely to bring a lawsuit. Only when Colbert abandons the Olympic name, and the symbols, and comes up with a name – The Quadrennial Cold Weather Athletic Competition – that is the equivalent to the "Big Game" that many use when referencing the Super Bowl, was the brother satisfied that Colbert would not get successfully sued. Stations should take similar precautions when thinking about using these terms in their programs.
Using the trademarked word or phrase in news reports about the event, or in other commentary, is in many cases just fine. But trying to imply an endorsement or connection to the event for which true sponsors pay "big bucks", can get you into trouble, as explained by Mr. Colbert. Thus, just as we looked to Colbert for examples of how music licensing works, and on when a candidate becomes legally qualified, he illustrated another legal concept. When will we next look to Mr. Colbert for an explanation of the law? Stay tuned.