Online Knitting Community Receives Take Down Notice for 'Ravelympics'

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The website Ravelry has gotten a take-down request from the US Olympic Committee, which says that "Ravelympic" events "denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games."

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Some of the worst infractions. (Ravelry)

Every two years around the Olympics, knitters around the world band together to push themselves beyond their comfortable knitting know-how and try to master tougher techniques and projects. People who meet their goals receive "Medals of Glory," and the proceeds from sales of Medals-of-Glory pins are donated to the Special Olympics. They call this excitement the Ravelympics (their online home is a website called Ravelry) and this week they received a rather humorless letter from the US Olympic Committee warning that the Ravelympics were infringing on US Olympic Committee's intellectual property.

In a letter posted on the Ravelry website, a representative of the US Olympic Committee, says that:

The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States. Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect. We believe using the name "Ravelympics" for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, 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 Ravelers were outraged. The site's post got more than 2,000 comments. Elsewhere, they took to Twitter and their blogs to vent. One, Jen Johnson of Washington state, wrote -- deliciously -- on her blog:

Again, my apologies to all, but most especially to the US Olympic athletes. Had I only known that by - please forgive me, but I'm going to have to use the word - that by knitting I was denigrating the Olympic games and disrespecting all your hard work, I swear I never would have done it. I can only plead ignorance.

Today, the USOC has backed of the language of its request, though it did not back away from the actual request to discontinue the trademark infringement of the Ravelympics. A spokesperson wrote:

The letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics was a standard-form cease and desist letter that explained why we need to protect our trademarks in legal terms. Rest assured, as an organization that has many passionate knitters, we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.

And later added:

As a follow-up to our previous statement on this subject, we would again like to apologize to the members of the Ravelry community. While we stand by our obligation to protect the marks and terms associated with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements in the United States, we sincerely regret the use of insensitive terms in relation to the actions of a group that was clearly not intending to denigrate or disrespect the Olympic Movement. We hope you'll accept this apology and continue to support the Olympic Games.

Of course many Ravelers were not satisfied, noting that the original letter had gone far beyond your standard boilerplate. 

The whole dust-up -- both the humorous and humorless aspects -- were the the predictable results of not so much a collision course between the two groups but at least a very combustible combination. The USOC is known for being extremely protective of its trademarks, which it leases to sponsors for revenue. The Ravelry community is one of the most devoted and developed communities on the Internet -- one of the best examples of the web's ability to foster and host hubs of activity and collaboration for far-flung but like-minded people. Sic the former on the latter, and, well, see what they're made of.

Via @OddLetters.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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