Image Courtesy: vivodefutbol on Flickr, SOCCER-WORLDEvery four years, people around the globe gather in front of their televisions to watch the World Cup. National pride swells, and old rivalries are renewed (with the aggression hopefully limited to the pitch). Countries like England, Italy, and Mexico take a pause from being world leaders and become the Three Lions, Gli Azzurri, and El Tri (respectively) for four weeks. Fans relive memories of head-butts and Hand(s) of God, and tell tales of bygone heroes with names like Pele, Eusebio, Beckenbauer, and Cruyff. It wouldn’t come as any surprise to find that fans around the world might be posting pictures of flags or even the World Cup logo to social media in their fervor. But fans doing so may soon find themselves in the crosshairs of soccer’s governing body, and dealing with the repercussions of trademark infringement.

FIFA has asked Twitter to send takedown notices to over 100 users who have used the logo of the 2014 World Cup as their profile’s avatar image. Twitter policy states that in instances when there is a “clear intent to mislead others through the unauthorized use of a trademark,” they will suspend the account and notify the user. However, in instances where Twitter determines that the user account “appears to be confusing users, but is not purposefully passing itself off as the trademarked good or service,” Twitter will allow the user the chance to clear up any potential confusion. While it seems likely these offenders are simply enthusiastic fans, FIFA has proven itself zealous in defending its brand, even in its commercial partnerships.

In its guidelines on usage of its official World Cup marks, FIFA lays out strict, specific rules on how the logo and related images may be used and by whom. Even with its considerable funds, FIFA relies on partnering with corporate sponsors to defray the costs associated with each World Cup. In exchange, these companies are given the right to use the logo in advertising, as well as the exclusivity of being able to market themselves as a official partner of the FIFA World Cup.  Companies that either illicitly use World Cup branding without permission, or imply an association with FIFA and the World Cup that doesn’t exist devalue the exclusivity held by official partners and sponsors and damage FIFA’s ability to sell such partnerships if left unchecked. More than just protecting the World Cup logo, FIFA also has protection on the tournament’s official mascot (Fuleco the Armadillo), official slogan (“All in one rhythm™”), as well as a slew of terms related to the event, including “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil,” “2014 FIFA World Cup,” “Brazil 2014,” and “Soccer World Cup,” to name a few.

There are of course exceptions to these restrictions. News media are allowed to use the official marks for information and editorial purposes, as well as publicize the match schedule provided it does not contain any unauthorized commercial branding. Also, any business names or merchandise featuring general soccer terms, national flags, or generic relation to Brazil do not create an infringement. And they’re not the only big sporting event that goes to such lengths to protect their trademarks. So fans looking to enjoy the festivities should take heed if they’re thinking of using FIFA World Cup branding in any way, lest they be dealt with in a severe fashion.

Intellectual property (IP) infringement can put you in a sticky situation. Always check the terms of use licenses before sharing material. And be sure to protect your own IP!
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