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How global sporting events can bankrupt your startup

Why global sporting events could get your startup in hot water.

When you think of global sporting events the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t crippling legal action. Unfortunately, it can often be the outcome for companies that give in to temptation and attempt to capture a little of the spotlight for themselves.

Regardless of what the sporting event of the moment may be, copyright regulations should be the first thing you consider when it comes to your marketing. Because no matter what the event, you can guarantee a team of lawyers is fiercely protecting the exclusive rights to brand-marks, taglines, imagery and just about everything else.

In essence, if your company wants to jump on the bandwagon of any major sporting events, you have four options:

  • Do it the right way (and pay a very large sum for the privilege)
  • Do it the wrong way (and risk severe penalties)
  • Do it the sneaky way (and risk severe penalties)
  • Play it safe and don’t do it at all

The right way is of course to become an official sponsor or supporting partner of the event. This allows full access to use of the event’s copyrighted material, which you can use in collaboration with the event’s organisers. For multinational enterprise organisations with 7 or 8 figure marketing budgets, this is clearly the best option to take. Unfortunately, this option is out of reach for the vast majority of companies, and not even remotely feasible for any startup.

Doing it the wrong way is fairly obvious too – simply run whatever marketing campaign you like and use copyrighted imagery without asking permission. Unfortunately it’s also easy to take the wrong way accidentally, as you’d be surprised the extent to which these events have everything even remotely related to their brand locked down. One of the more dangerous traps in that regard is social media, because it’s much more spur-of-the-moment than more traditional advertising campaigns. All it takes is one junior marketing person to promote a tweet with #copyrightinfringingtrademark and your company could quickly receive some very sternly worded cease and desist letters. Believe it or not, when it comes to certain events you can’t even retweet or share social media posts from official accounts or sponsors without breaching copyright.

Although some who’ve been hit with these arguably draconian measures have tried to fight back.

The sneaky approach is perhaps the most interesting ways of tackling this dilemma, but it definitely isn’t something we would recommend from a legal perspective. There is a myriad of creative ways that companies and their advertising agencies have employed to skirt the boundaries of copyright infringement, and it’s well worth looking up a few of the more brazen examples for entertainment value. But event organisers and their sponsors are well aware when these kind of shenanigans occur, and even more-so than accidental or naive infringements you can guarantee they will do their best to pursue legal recourse against those who try to game the system.

Which leaves us with the most legally sound option, and the only one that we can recommend – boring though it may be. Just don’t give into temptation. The truth is the fleeting recognition your company may gain from an illegitimate association with a major sporting event just isn’t worth the legal headaches sure to follow.

As some final food for thought, we’ll leave you with this – advertising that relies on the recognition of large events is lazy advertising. Be creative in the way you present your brand to the world – originality is more effective, and it’s free from legal complications.

Ready or not? Contact us for advice. Get in touch