There’s IP in Olympics

There’s two interesting intellectual property tidbits that arise from Russia’s recent announcement of its three official mascots for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

First:  Don’t Privatize Santa

Ded Morez, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, had led in early polling [to decide the mascot] but was pulled from the ballot at the last second when Russian organizers feared that their country’s folk hero would become official property of the IOC [International Olympic Committee].

Analysis:  I don’t know the intricacies of Russian IP law, but, here in the U.S., a public domain figure like Santa wouldn’t become re-protected just because a corporate entity used it (at least in theory, though some would argue that such behavior constitutes a large portion of Disney’s business model).  On the other hand, it’s probably best to never turn IP over to the IOC that you ever want to use again.  Under U.S. law, the IOC doesn’t bother with protecting its Olympic-related IP via general copyright and trademark laws (like everyone else).  Rather, they are personally, directly, explicitly written into the federal statute.  See 36 U.S.C. § 220506.

Second:  Plagiarizing the Past?

[T]he creator of Russia’s last Olympic mascot [Summer 1980] says [one of the new mascots constitutes] plagiarism….”This polar bear, everything is taken from mine, the eyes, nose, mouth, smile,” he told a Moscow radio station. “I don’t like being robbed.”

Analysis:  I’m going to let Chris Chase from the original Yahoo! article take this one:

Yes, both bears have eyes, noses, mouths and smiles, as do all cartoon bears. There’s only so many ways to draw an anthropomorphic cartoon bear. You don’t see Winnie the Pooh with snarling fangs, you know?

One is white and has a scarf. The other is brown and wearing an Olympic ring belt buckle. Other than the fact that they’re both from the ursus genus, there aren’t many similarities. The Sochi mascot may be unoriginal, uninspired and bland, but it’s not a copy.

Sounds like a great, practical description the merger doctrine to me.