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The Laws Behind the London Olympics

Sign for Olympics lane, Gipsy Corner ("The A40 Western Avenue is an Olympics route to Wembley Stadium. On days with Olympics football, one lane will be reserved for Olympics traffic where there are 3 lanes available. Temporary digital signs like this will show drivers whether lanes are open or restricted.") (© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse)

The Olympics are here!  I am currently incredibly homesick and wishing that I could be there in the UK, although I am taking advantage of all the sales of British goods in the US and have been merrily waving my Union Flag.

This is not the first time that London has hosted the Olympic Games in recent years.  We hosted it in 1908 (where tug of war was featured as an event for the first and only time), again in 1948, and are lucky devils indeed to be hosting it for the third time.  This has given the UK plenty of time to ponder and plan for an event of epic proportions this year.

The law interplays greatly with the Olympics, with a specific London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 being passed to provide a statutory framework for the public bodies entrusted with the running of the Games.  The provisions of this act, and others connected with the Olympics, cover many more areas than the highly publicized “branding laws.”  They include relaxations on Sunday trading restrictions, prohibitions on ticket touting, a potential bill to prohibit union action, laws providing for the temporary closure of major roads to traffic, as well as the UK’s vast anti-terrorism laws.  All these laws play a role in ensuring this major event ticks along smoothly and, hopefully, without any unexpected incidents.

As noted above, the most publicized laws that apply to the Olympics at this time are the “branding laws.”  These laws are aimed at ensuring that the exclusive rights provided to the official sponsors of the games, who contributed millions of dollars used to fund the event, are not undermined or devalued.  This protection occurs through a combination of trade mark protection, copyright law, registered community designs and common law.  Additional protection has been provided by the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995, supplemented by provisions in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.  The law renders the use of the Olympic symbol, the London 2012 logo or words “London 2012,” and other Olympic related designs and terms, unlawful for the purposes of trade without the authorisation of the London 2012 Organising Committee.

The UK has been criticized for its heavy handed application of these laws, and there is almost not a day that goes by without a news article showing the impact of these laws.  One more extreme example includes an apparent warning issued to an 81 year old lady who had knitted an outfit for a doll that included the Olympic rings and attempted to sell it at her church for around US$1.60 (that doll, albeit a little cheeky looking, is the kind that populates my nightmares).

Hopefully all of the planning over the past several years will ensure that the UK delivers on its promises when the Olympic Games get underway.

Updated!  Check out the other blogs from the Library of Congress about the Olympics.

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