Monday, 29 March 2010

Olympic - a Greek word: the mistake the International Olympic Committee makes

Everyone who has been involved in ICANN over the past ten years is aware of the politics and the power struggles that take place within the corporation. Everyone who has been involved in ICANN is especially aware of the politics that take place lately over the introduction of new gTLDs and the protection of trademark owners and their rights. So, I really shouldn't have been surprised when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) joined forces with the trademark community, and started nagging about almost everything: the inefficiency of the Special Trademark Issues group's (STI) mechanisms, the creation of new gTLDs, the Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) report - everything.

Although I have been following closely ICANN's trademark policies over the years, having heard a myriad of unjustifiable and unreasonable arguments emanating from the greed of trademark owners, I was still surprised to read the communication and arguments submitted by IOC to ICANN (http://icann.org/correspondence/lacotte-to-beckstrom-16mar10-en.pdf).

And, let me tell you why I was surprised.

I am Greek and up until this stage I was not aware that the word 'Olympic' and every variation that derives from it, is the exclusive verbal territory of IOC. Actually, until recently, I believed that the term 'Olympic' with all its variations belongs to the Greeks - not in some elitist, unique sense of dominium , but as being part of the wider historical culture of Greece. I really did not want to indulge in a debate concerning the ownership of any word with historical and cultural connotations, but, since IOC is talking about ownership of the term 'Olympic', let's talk about true ownership.

From a historical and cultural point of view, the term 'Olympic' is Greek; it is ingrained within the Greek culture and its significance for the Greek language is invaluable.I have grown up and have been educated using the word Olympic in various forms and fashions. At school, I was taught Lesia's Olympiakos speech and visited the area of 'Olympia', where the first Olympic games were held; I climbed the mountain Olympos with my friends and have travelled with Olympic Airways; I cheered for my football team against Olympiakos inside the Olympic stadium in Athens. I have never felt any sense of guilt or intimidation when using the term with its multitude of variations and I believe no Greek has either.So, why should I feel it now?

This is, essentially, what the International Olympic Committee suggests in its correspondence to ICANN. The fact that in the United States, the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act recognizes and protects the term as unique, to me, being Greek, means nothing. I really cannot understand how IOC can claim ownership and demand exclusive protection without considering the implications - historical and cultural - that this can have. I wonder whether they have gone to the trouble of consulting the Greek government. What IOC is proposing is not only unreasonable but also illegitimate.

What IOC is suggesting is simple and it is the wishful thinking of all trademark owners: the addition of the term 'Olympic' with all its variations (including, but not limited to, Olympiad and the Olympics) in a reserved list. So, in simple words, me being Greek, I will not be able to register any domain name that is close to the term Olympic. I believe the problem is obvious as is the question: why should IOC receive this kind of protection?

It should not. I am not saying that the term should be an open field for abusive registrations, but this is a far cry from IOC trying to establish exclusive rights on this word. This is the inherent problem with the bargaining power the trademark community has upon ICANN. This has always been the problem and is now getting worse.

So, IOC is mistaken and I am certainly biased in this case. But, the truth is that I have every right to be.




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