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After Knitters Get In A Twist, USOC Apologizes For 'Cease And Desist' Letter

Note to the USOC: Those are balls of yarn, not puts.
Michael Brandy
Note to the USOC: Those are balls of yarn, not puts.

It wouldn't seem to be a good idea to get 2 million people with pointy sticks angry at you, but the U.S. Olympic Committee did just that.

So it has just apologized for sending a "cease and desist" letter to a social networking site for knitters that is holding its own sort-of Olympic games.

Here's what the knotty legal dispute is about:

As Gawker reported, knitters were "in revolt" because the USOC's legal beagles got on their case this week over the website Ravelry's "Ravelympics" — featuring such competitions as the "Afghan marathon."

To the USOC, that "may constitute trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of our famous trademarks," as its letter to Ravelry co-founder Casey Forbes states.

"It's looking like we may have to rename the Ravelympics," Forbes said in a Ravelry post.

But his fellow fans of the knit and the purl didn't give up easily. They left a ton of messages on U.S. Olympic Team's Facebook page, hit Twitter with their complaints, and emailed the USOC. Of particular concern to many: What they felt was the letter's insulting tone.

Which led to the Olympics committee casting off the idea of going after the knitters. In a statement posted online this afternoon, spokesman Patrick Sandusky says in part:

"Thanks to all of you who have posted, tweeted, emailed and called regarding the letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics.

"Like you, we are extremely passionate about what we do. ...

"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.

"We apologize for any insult and appreciate your support. We embrace hand-crafted American goods as we currently have the Annin Flagmakers of New Jersey stitching a custom-made American flag to accompany our team to the Olympic Games in London. To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games."

So, it would seem, the USOC's plans to take legal action have unraveled.

By the way, Two-Way readers may recall that we're something of a pro-knitting blog. See our post from Jan. 8: "At One Maryland Prison, They're 'Knitting Behind Bars.' "

And for a more in-depth look at brands and trademarks, check On the Media's piece on "When A Brand Becomes Too Successful."

(H/T to NPR's Howard Berkes.)

Update at 2:15 p.m. ET. Early Reactions To The Apology Aren't Positive:

Knitters are now leaving comments on the Olympic Teams Facebook page about the apology statement. This captures the tone of the first few:

"Patrick Sandusky, your apology falls well short of any real acknowledgement of any wrong doing on your part. Your clerk's language was insulting and inflammatory, and not any part of any cease and desist or form letter I have ever seen. T...o follow it up saying "while you're knitting, send us some of those things we didn't want you knitting in support of us in the first place" is just adding fuel to the fire. Do yourself a favour the next time you try to protect the Olympic brand and the interest of your sponsors - do a little bit of research about the efforts you are trying to quash before sending threatening letters. If you had, you'd find that you just stopped the US members of a MASSIVE group of people from watching NBC and all of the sponsors' ads because of your lack of judgement and your poor representation of the Olympic brand. Sincerely, Lisa Roman, Ravelry member since 2008"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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