Spurious

So you hear me talk all the time about this place I hang out on the internet: Ravelry. I don’t know how much I’ve said about Ravelry in the past, but bear with me.

Ravelry is a community of 2 million knitters and crafters (weavers, spinners, crocheters).  The site was created by Casey Forbes, a Boston area software developer (we call him Code Monkey) for his wife, Jess, who is a knitter.

It has blossomed over the past several years into a huge community. It is an invaluable resource as a database of patterns and techniques, and gives knitters and crafters the ability to create a portfolio of projects. Membership is free and the site is supported by advertising from various yarn vendors, pattern designers, magazines/publications, etc.

A few years ago (starting in 2008) a group of individuals came up with the idea that the knitters ought to participate in the Olympic spirit by challenging themselves to reach new heights in their craft, while simultaneously watching Olympic coverage. They called this the “Ravelympics.”  The premise is simple – the Olympics brings together amateur athletes all across the world to promote athletic achievement and peaceful cooperation and competition.  Ravelry does the same for knitters – it brings together an international community joined by the ritual of crafting.

This month the owner of Ravelry, Casey Forbes received a cease and desist letter from the US Olympic Committee.  It asserts that among other things the “Ravelympics”

…Tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.

The letter also states that

The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.

It looks as if this is the third time that the Ravelympics have been organized, each coinciding with an Olympic year (2008, 2010, and 2012).  The name Ravelympics is clearly derived from the terms “Ravelry” (the name of your website) and OLYMPICS, making RAVELYMPICS a simulation of the mark OLYMPIC tending to falsely suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement.  Thus, the use of RAVELYMPICS is prohibited by the Act.  Knowing this, we are sure that you can appreciate the need for you to re-name the event, to something like the Ravelry Games.

Yes. Because an internet site that includes practitioners of crafts from each and every country in the world, that provides forums for shared information and education, that promotes as a central tenet “Be excellent to each other,” can absolutely in no way live up to the ideals of the Olympic Games.

Now let me be clear. I am not comparing an athlete’s life-long training and dedication to his or her sport, and my sitting on my couch knitting along while watching the Olympics. However, I don’t think my celebrating the Olympians’ accomplishments, while rooting for them in my own home, choosing to challenge myself through my own hobby of crafting should in any way denigrate what they are trying to achieve.

I might add that there is NO commercial value to any of this – the whole point of the Ravelympics is for each knitter to challenge him/herself to knit beyond their previous achievements. For most of us this results in us trying new techniques, knitting large objects for our personal use, or joining together to form larger projects (like knitting squares for a blanket).

So where am I going with this?  Well to be honest, I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m just flabbergasted that the U.S. Olympic Committee is going after the people who are supporting its events and maintaining that they own the exclusive rights to the Olympics name (which I might add was named when it was held in Olympia, Greece). And to preach tolerance and harmony and then go after a large group of supporters (did I mention that Ravelry had 2 million members?) seems… well… unsportsmanlike.  It certainly has lessened my interest in supporting them.

Postscript: Upon reviewing my post, and the complaints of the U.S. Olympic Committee I can find one way in which Ravelry has crossed the line. I have searched and there are a small number of patterns available for sale which feature the Olympic rings, which I can only presume have been trademarked by the IOC and the USOC.  In this point, I do believe the USOC is correct that those designers should cease and desist from selling patterns that feature images to which they do not own the rights.

***

For a little background reading:

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, otherwise known as the knitting writer and blogger The Yarn Harlot, began a project in 2006 called the Knitting Olympics that, in part, inspired the Ravelympics.

Ravelry can be found at Ravelry.com.  You can sign up for a free membership and the forum thread with the text of the letter is here.

The groups that have formed around the “Ravelympics” are Ravelympics 2010 and Ravelympics 2012.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kippiann
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 20:54:00

    Don’t you mean Olympics™ ?

    Or maybe the argument could be made that Ravelympics is an effort to make a knitting community as large as the Olympic National Park? I’m kidding. Sort of.

    This is direct proof that the Olympics are no longer an arena for amateur athletes to compete, but a way for mega-corporations to sell advertising. If they could find a way to monetize Ravelry, the IOC/USOC would be on board.

    Reply

    • thestashbuckler
      Jun 20, 2012 @ 21:10:02

      Yes. Because Coca-Cola and McDonald’s and the other supporters of the Olympics are exactly what we want for our children to consume as they try to soar to new heights. GAG ME.

      Reply

  2. Kate
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 23:54:27

    I can see where they are coming from with the trademark infringement to a point. They do have to protect their “brand,” but this is extreme. The Ravelympics are not trying to profit or claim an affiliation with the Olympics, only create an event with a title that is play on the term. The question I have is whether this could be considered a parody, which is a protected form of speech – how do you think Weird Al is able to do what he does? And if it is considered parody, does the protection extend to a business/non-profit/whatever Ravelry is?

    As for the rest of it, like the part where we’re being disrespectful, I have a few choice words that I won’t repeat here. While the USOC will likely win this round with Ravelry, they’ve done more to hurt their brand than allowing something like the Ravelympics to continue ever would.

    Reply

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