Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ravelympics: Who Wins?

The Ravelympics will have to undergo a name change: Ravelry members can vote here on a shortlist of contenders, none of which have quite the same significance or resonance as the original.  I haven't even officially chosen or signed up with a team for the Event Which Must Not Be Named, but I'll be knitting.  And I'll be calling it "Ravelympics" here on my blog even if I can't on Ravelry.  And I will be taking every opportunity between now and then to put the words "Olympics" and "Olympian" in their proper context, which I do not believe is as the exclusively trademarked property of an American corporation.  Expect to see reviews of books featuring Olympic deities, references to Mt. Olympus in classical times, and maybe some talk about the Olympic Peninsula right here in Washington State.  I think I will be okay, because this is a small blog, and because it's not making a profit.  But you never know.  Just in case, I want to be buried in my orange Rhinebeck sweater.

I despise a bully, and although I understand why Ravelry feels it must comply with the U.S. Olympic Committee's "cease and desist" letter, I think there are far deeper issues involved than copyright infringement.  Ravelry itself is a for-profit corporation, yes... but it's also a social networking platform, and its 2 million members should be viewed as private individuals with the rights to free speech and free association that all Americans enjoy.  The Ravelympics is an all-volunteer effort, run by ordinary members of Ravelry and not by its employees.  So for the USOC to dictate what private citizens can call their own hobbies and groups really does ring a lot of free speech bells for me.  And if you're not a knitter, consider what might happen if you invited a lot of friends to come to your house for a party to watch the Olympics... and you used the Facebook platform to do it.  Or your email program.  Or your cell phone.  Would the USOC go after these corporations because you used them to infringe on their copyright?  And if not, is it just because those are big corporations, and Ravelry is small (in profit, not membership)?  Then shame on the USOC, because that's the very definition of a bully.

The internet is still in its Wild West phase, and the rules are unclear.  But I don't think the legal department of a for-profit corporation that is turning a tidy profit exploiting the efforts of amateur athletes (well, they used to be anyway) to market them to TV viewers should be the one to set the rules.  This is what the term "crony capitalism" means, and it's not pretty.  Now, I know better than most that knitters are all over the map politically.  I myself am a proud conservative Republican, and I like free enterprise, and I like businesses to be able to turn a profit as long as they do it honestly (which I think they do, most of the time).  Where there's real copyright and trademark infringement, I'd like those things to be sensibly protected.  But I utterly fail to see the business sense in alienating a large group of potential customers, some of whom have been eagerly looking forward to the games.  It's like winning the trademark battle and losing the fan base that made the trademark worth something.

The ironic thing, of course, is that 5 days ago most knitters didn't think one way or the other about the USOC.  They were generally positive about the Olympics and many were looking forward to watching the games while working on a project that would be personally challenging to them.  One crazy day turned that all upside down.  Very few knitters are going to be watching with the same spirit of goodwill towards the Olympic organizers and profiteers that they might have had.  It's all left a sour taste in our mouths.  It's so very petty, like the jocks in high school who picked on the artsy kids.

The USOC has created a massive PR problem for itself, and I can't say I feel too sorry for it.  I've watched with a small amount of schadenfreude as the social media have exploded with outrage about this issue over the last few days.  For sure, when the history of social networking is written, the Ravelympics will have its own chapter. 

I'm looking forward to watching the London games and cheering on the athletes who are doing their best to be the best in the world at what they do, but I'll be muting the commercials.  Or, perhaps more to the point, I'll be giving serious thought to whether I want to support the attempt to commercialize excellence.


kaslkaos said...

You've got it right about the free speech angle; refreshing to read that someone out there sees the threat.

Anonymous said...

Well written!

/Anna in Sweden (taking a break from training for the R-games)