Intel’s problems registering 80586 as a trademark was easily solved by renaming the chip to a Pentium. It seems that the organisers of the Sydney 2000 Olympics have a bigger problem. You see they took the Asia Pacific Internet Company (APIC) to task for using the name Sydney2000.net and have threatened the company with legal action if it doesn’t stop selling web sites and eMail addresses with the name. APIC who are unlikely to have the legal resources to take on the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) believe they are in the right. They have until May 30th to respond.
In the good old days, companies threatened by a large internationally recognised organisation would admit defeat before the first punch was thrown and lie down hoping the problem went away. The internet has however changed that and empowered the small company or “man in the street” as some might say. Easy communication allows for small players to sum up help from all over the world in a matter of eMails. APIC’s cause was taken up by enthusiasts the world over who were looking to support the companies fight against the giant SOCOG. Members of the internet communities around the world publicised the act which spells out which words and combination of words are protected in terms of the Sydney 2000 Games (Indicia and Images) Protection Act 1996. (available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/num_act/s2000gaipa1996378/s8.html). Armed with this information, these modern day guerrillas set about registering every possible combination of words relating to the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Within days a proliferation of names have appeared around the globe. These include:
One company by the name of Trade Services located behind the website (http://www.sydney-2000.net/syd-2000_start.html) is offering to lease a virtual website for a 4 year period. Marketed as an off the shelf web site, located in the USA (and presumably out of the jurisdiction of Australian law), it is cheaper and faster than any site in Australia and includes the registered name and associated eMail addresses. Interested parties are invited to contact them.
While this opportunism cannot necessarily be sanctioned, it does bring into question the effectiveness of laws in the virtual world of the internet. Few countries (certainly not South Africa) have updated their laws to take into account the realities of the internet. This has left loopholes in the law. An internet address for example is simply a pointer to a specific computer on the internet. While one name might point to a server in Alaska, a similar name with only one letter different may point to a server in New Zealand. In the real world a company such as Coca Cola could successfully protect their name from someone trying to use the name Coka Cola because it is so close to the original. On the internet, where the similar name is located on the other side of the world but still available at both locations, lawsuits become costly and unpractical.
Another issue raised by this incident is the way in which companies interact with each other. The age of the internet, I believe, has brought with it an age of co-operation for mutual benefit. This means working towards a win-win situation rather than the win loose which has characterised our societies for so long. Perhaps a better approach for the SOCOG would have been to sit down with APIC’s CEO, Bala Pillai and worked out a compromise. It seems Pillai registered the name in November 1995 prior to the Games Act coming into affect and could even stand a chance should a legal battle ensue.
With all the subsequent names registered or in the process of being registered, the SOCOG could probably retain a whole new firm of attorneys to track down the companies and individuals responsible for the illegitimate registrations. Not a likely solution unless their fundraisers have been especially generous.
With Cape Town in the running for the 2004 Summer Olympics, there is perhaps a lesson to be learnt from Sydney’s experience. I doubt Sydney will find their solution in threatening or suing the people responsible for the proliferation of Sydney Olympic web sites. Their solution might have to be far more creative such as creating a list of all servers offering information about the 2000 Olympics and hosting it on their “Official” server. This would make them a conduit to the other sites while maintaining their official status. Either way Cape Town should take note as I’m sure they will have enough other challenges should they win the bid later in the year.