Battle for 2012: arts event that fell foul of Olympics

London Games organisers threaten court action over use of next year's date in exhibition name

The overseers of the London 2012 Olympics are hinting at legal action against an events company after objecting to their use of next year's date, "2012", in the name of a forthcoming series of events celebrating British culture.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) is objecting against plans to trademark the name of the forthcoming "Great Exhibition 2012", a series of nationwide initiatives culminating with a two-week festival planned for next August.

Locog has given the exhibition's organisers, the Great Exhibitions Company, until 27 June to withdraw their application or potentially face legal proceedings. They particularly object to the use of "2012" in the event's name, as they consider that date is now widely used to refer to next year's Games.

"I just feel generally upset, as all I am asking for is the right for people to celebrate," said the Great Exhibition Company's chief executive Julie Benson. "At the moment the country next year is a jigsaw and the only bit that is coloured in is London. I just want to go about my business and the law just seems so draconian".

Locog is citing the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 which prevents people from creating an unauthorised association between a person or organisation and the London 2012 Games.

Alongside Benson, the Great Exhibition 2012's organising committee also includes Evelyn Thurlby, the first chief executive of Cornwall's The Eden Project. The event has won the support of public figures including Michael Parkinson, the Conran Group, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Ellen MacArthur. Eamonn Holmes is one of those quoted on the Great Exhibition's website saying the event will "lift [people's] spirits and expectations about what we as individuals and Britain are capable of". Benson claims to have had discussions with the Duke of York over pledging support to her event, which she hopes will encapsulate "all elements" of British society and culture, and said she has been planning the exhibition, which has already raised around £2m of capital, since 1998.

However Locog claims a representative of the Great Exhibition had admitted to them that the inclusion of the date, "2012", in the name of their event, had made their proposed trademark more valuable. Benson denies this.

"We are unable to comment on individual cases, however, our general approach is always to take a fair and pragmatic approach and deal with any issues on a case by case basis," said a Locog spokesperson. Locog has approached the Great Exhibition's organisers with the opportunity for them to become part of London 2012's Inspire programme. The Great Exhibition would be able to associate themselves with the Games on the proviso they became a non-commercial operation.

"It's certainly true that Locog have been given very strong rights for this specific event and have made very clear that they intend to exercise their powers to their full limits," said Lorna Brazell a copyright lawyer for copyright specialist law firm Bird & Bird. "This kind of debate is going to get more intense as the Olympics approach. In this case, it is the broadest reach of their powers I have seen so far."

Authors have already been approached by Locog for employing titles associating themselves with Olympic terminology. According to a report earlier this month in books trade title The Bookseller, children's author Robert Ronsson has been threatened with legal action because of the title of his self-published work "Olympic Mind Games". Locog's website states that the Olympics' official sponsors must have "an exclusive association to London 2012 and the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the UK".

How Locog keeps a tight grip

* Earlier this year, it emerged that Newham Council was looking into the case of Café Olympic – a café near Stratford Olympic park – over its use of the Olympic name. The 1995 Olympic Symbol Act, amended in 2006 after London won the right to host the Games, makes it difficult for unofficial organisations to exploit certain words, which include Olympiad, Olympians and 2012, for commercial gain.

* Robert Ronsson received legal threats from Locog over his 2007 novel entitled, The Donovan Twins: Olympic Mind Games. He published the book regardless – Locog later withdrew their complaint and did not prosecute him.

* Locog has warned travel agents hoping to cash in on the 2012 Games that they cannot use terms such as London 2012, London, Olympic(s) or the Olympic symbol in business names, promotions or advertising material. Some agents have already received warnings, with fines thought to be up to £20,000.

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