On the road to Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Madness, one sleeping bag at a time…

by Yule Heibel on August 1, 2007

Marianne Lepa, publisher of Arts News Canada (see my blog post from July 21), wrote in today’s by-subscription newsletter about Kimberly Baker, an artist who recently graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design in Vancouver.

It’s a story of the ham-fisted 2010 Olympics/ Vancouver Organizing Committee’s approach to “copyright” and marketing rights, and it should shock the hell out of any sane person. I’ll quote from Marianne’s email (which is based on Baker’s article in Common Ground):

For her graduation project, [Kimberly Baker] created a poster that depicts a homeless man in a sleeping bag with his shopping cart beside him. The image is reproduced five times and placed just so, each sleeping bag is coloured in five vibrant shades. The title of the poster is “Vancouver 2010”.

Imagine Baker’s surprise when the printer told her that “2010” has been trademarked by the Olympic Organizing Committee and she was breaking the law by using the date on her poster.

“Sure enough, an investigation showed that Canada had passed Bill C-47, the Olympic and Paralympics Marks Act, legislation that provides the Vancouver Olympic organizers with extreme power over the symbols and language linked with the Olympics,” she writes in a commentary on Common Ground, found in our Opinion section today.

She went ahead and exhibited the poster anyway. It garnered enough attention that it earned a Vancouver Sun review, but unlike the other four works reviewed by the Sun, Baker’s poster wasn’t given a photograph.

“Had the Vancouver Sun been so intimidated about liability issues pertaining to any formation of ‘Vancouver 2010’ ,” she wonders, “that they wouldn’t print the image?”

Appropriating objects from our culture is necessary, Baker argues, “relevant issues become visible to a broader, public audience, challenging the notions of political authority, as a result.”

After learning that she may find herself in an expensive and protracted court case if she displayed the poster, Baker instead sought permission from VANOC to use the poster. It was granted, but for only limited applications. She met with Colin Jarvis, VANOC’s manager of Commercial Rights Management.

“When I met with Mr. Jarvis, he was very accommodating and open to answering all my questions. He assured me that VANOC’s position is that they are not interested in litigation with artists and that artists have a right to critique.

“When discussing my posters, Jarvis said that VANOC would not have a problem with them. However, if put them up on bill boards across the Downtown Eastside, there would be a problem because that action would be considered more in the light of my creating a ‘campaign’, as opposed to my displaying a work of art. So how do I know where the threshold is before I cross the boundary into creating allegedly illegal art?”

A link to Appropriation Art, a coalition of art professionals concerned for the protection of the artist to appropriate cultural objects in face of stiffening copyright legislation, can be found in our Blue Column under Advocacy Links.

Readers and local people might remember the equally outrageous attempts by the VANOC to force the Olympia Restaurant, in operation for over 15 years in Vancouver, to change its name. According to VANOC, its use of the name “Olympia” as well as the 5 Olympic rings under the name — which the restaurant had been using for 15 years — was suddenly a violation of copyright. Commenting on the absurdity of it all, Denny Hatch wrote in November 2005:

…forcing Alvand to change the name of his long-established restaurant seems gratuitously nasty. It means not only changing the sign, but also the menus, napkins and brochures, as well as spending money for public and customer awareness.

Further, it renders useless his entry in all the listings of Vancouver restaurants on the Internet and in printed materials all over the world.

Plus, in five years the whole thing will be over.

It just blows me away that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association or the Canadian Civil Liberties Union or the B.C. Civil Liberties Association haven’t started a … well, a civil liberties fight over this. Are there too many of them, are they too scattered (a federal association, a federal union, a provincial association — sheesh, is this necessary? are they effective?)?

For more on the question of VANOC’s overstepping of trademark & copyright (copywrong) claims, see the March 29, 2007 Vancouver Sun article, The law says don’t try to make money using these ‘Olympic’ words, by Jeff Lee (it’s spread over 4 webpages). On the last page, Lee lists words that, according to VANOC, may not be used.

“May not be used”: christ, it sounds like some cheap scare tactic at Hogwarts, doesn’t it? Here’s the list:

  • See You in Vancouver
  • See You in Whistler
  • See You in Beijing
  • Let the Dreams Begin
  • Friend
  • Sea To Sky
  • Top
  • 2010
  • ’10
  • We’re Next
  • Road to Beijing
  • Driven by Nature
  • Road to Vancouver
  • Road to Whistler
  • Driven by Dreams
  • Celebrate the Impossible
  • Vancouver ’10
  • Vancouver 2-10
  • Vancouver 2’10
  • Gold Medal
  • Game Plan
  • 2000
  • 2002
  • ’00
  • ’02
  • Host Country
  • Bid Booster
  • Bid Champion
  • Beijing and Beyond
  • I’m Backing the Bid
  • It’s Our Time To Shine
  • For The Fire Within
  • Voldemort

Ok, ok, I made the last one up. But the rest? Even J.K. Rowling couldn’t come up with something as absurd as this… If you think I’m kidding, Lee spells it out:

Here [the list, above] are SOME of the words that are claimed as official marks by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, its predecessor Vancouver Bid Corp., the Canadian Olympic Committee and its predecessor Canadian Olympic Association. All are still in force. Vanoc has ownership of these official marks as the rights-holder for the 2010 Winter Games. The COC also has some of these words under other marketing rights they haven’t given up to Vanoc but share in common.

This is so wrong it doesn’t copy. This is so hugely wrong, it can only be laughed at. Except it isn’t funny.


maria August 2, 2007 at 12:43 pm

And just as I was waxing nostalgic about the place I left behind a couple of decades ago…. “Top”? “Friend”? “Gold Medal”? “00”?…. It boggles the imagination — oh wait, what imagination? Because the list is so insipid, it is funny.

yulelog August 2, 2007 at 1:14 pm

It seems unenforceable, doesn’t it? Whoever cooked this up clearly and totally overstepped all boundaries of reason, sanity, morality, enforceability, …whatever.

BTW, if you click through to Kimberly Baker’s website, you’ll see that she has that image up, but without the “Vancouver 2010” label. The image I put into the blogpost came from the Common Ground article (and sorry if it’s distorted on my page — it looks fine on Common Ground’s webpage).

Doug Alder August 2, 2007 at 2:57 pm

OMG – that means every cheque I wrote in 2000 and 2002 , and every blog post as well, (and even this comment) are violations . Quick where’s an attorney 😉 – I’d say it was unbelievable but then we’ve had seven + unbelievable years of Bush so nothing is unbelievable anymore

Robert Randall August 12, 2007 at 9:12 pm

Hang on for a minute. This is not merely the year “2010, but also the word “vancouver”, both in the distinctive typeface, virtually duplicating the official wordmark. Perhaps the sleeping bag icons make it a parody in the eyes of a reasonable person, but it wouldn’t take much to make that appear as if it were an official Olympic message–bicycles or flowers instead of sleeping bags, for instance.

Shouldn’t copyright law apply evenly no matter whether you’re David or Goliath?

Now there are those associated with the “open source ” movement that would call for rewriting existing copyright laws, but that’s not the issue here.

yulelog August 12, 2007 at 9:48 pm

“Shouldn’t copyright law apply evenly no matter whether you’re David or Goliath?”
– In the abstract, that sounds reasonable, but a just application of law requires that it not be simply an abstraction.

I got really annoyed with a local blogger, julie b. a., better left unnamed, who works as an editor & contributor for a local bi-monthly magazine named after what the French call a street, when several years ago she attacked the guys on Haida Gwaii who were in a battle with Starbucks over “copyright” over any name that alluded to “bucks.” See, they had decided to call their coffee shop “Haida Bucks” (or maybe “Haidabucks”) and were getting sued by Starbucks’s lawyers. I said this was just bullshit, and the other person (julie b.) suggested that Haidabucks were “deliberately” using the Starbucks name to make a name — so what? — and that therefore they deserved the lawsuit.


This is so uneven it’s not even funny. It’s so outrageously against freedom of speech, it leaves me speechless that anyone could defend it — it’s a copywrong. Kimberly Baker is not making any money off this — it is a free speech issue. The VANOC guys are only in the business of protecting commercial interests — hell, it doesn’t even have anything remotely to do with sports or sportsmanship or games or anything like that anymore.

How many g-d ways are there of using that typeface to spell Vancouver, and so what if it looks exactly like the “olympic” Vancouver? You know, I’m an atheist. But I like that injunction in the Bible against idols and against graven images. This is a perfect example: We are being asked to bow down before the golden calf of the graven image of Vancouver 2010, but what really matters is the human spirit, the one that says “f-you” and refuses to bow down before it, because it (the real human spirit) knows that it is worthier than enslavement to copywrong.

Kill the false gods.

Well. (Fans self.) Pardon me if I sound all out of breath and hot & bothered about this. But I guess somewhere at heart I’m an old testamentarian or something. I won’t stand for this stupid legalese in the temple. Throw the bastards out, and long live free expression.

Robert Randall August 12, 2007 at 11:01 pm

As an illustrator and graphic designer, I am concerned that something that I created–my intellectual property–could be taken away from me on a whim.

VANOC is legally obligated to defend their intellectual property. If they didn’t, it would be taken away from them and it would enter the public domain.

Does it matter if VANOC is a so called “bad” organization (like Dow Chemical or Shell etc.?)

What if the shoe were on the other foot; say VANOC wanted to scatter several snack kiosks around the Olympic site with the “Bubby Rose’s” logo?

Like Disney, the IOC aggressively defends its intellectual property. The main reason, of course, is to guard against counterfeit goods and businesses falsely claiming Olympic sponsorship. Until it was demoted to shoeshine cloth, I was the proud owner of an “Istanbul 2000” Olympic t-shirt I bought in Turkey in 1993, thousands of which were openly on sale in market bazaars.

Works of satire are permitted, but Baker is pushing the envelope when it comes to what a judge would call fair comment by taking her work off the op-ed page or art gallery and into the advertising realm.

yulelog August 14, 2007 at 8:39 pm

The thing about justice is that is must be measured (that’s why in allegory it’s a woman with scales). Justice without measure is not justice. It’s hubris, it pretends to be godly or authorial. Justice comes from men (generically speaking, i.e., women too), which is why it’s important never to say “they do it” (mete out justice), but rather always to attach the human author to the justice in question.

The thing is, no one is going to take your or Bubby Rose‘s designs and make a pile of money off them, and if they did, the law would be the instrument you would use to seek justice. There’s a context.

To argue the law in the abstract is to argue for justice without measure, which makes the law unlawful. All law and all justice takes place within contexts.

We can disagree about which contexts to privilege, which is why I don’t agree with total contextualism (as in: “it’s ok to keep women enslaved because that’s the ‘justice’ of that particular society”), so you might argue that my “god” is human rights insofar as I give it [human rights] the power of immeasurability in those areas I’m concerned about.

But I’m not stupid: just because I believe in something in the abstract doesn’t mean I expect its instant instantiation in the real world — equal rights for women oppressed by tribal customs, for example.

VANOC expects instant instantiation of its “law” in all areas, no argument. That’s abstract, immeasurable, …dumb. Justice might be blind, but dumb…?

Don’t forget, too, that VANOC is the aggressor in the first instance here, regardless of what Kimberly Baker may have done now deliberately to provoke them. VANOC is the agency that went after a long-established Vancouver restaurant, trying to force it to change its name, its menu, its Yellow Pages listing, and so on ad infinitum.

Yeah, somehow I can’t see Bubby Rose going after “copyright infringements” in quite that way…

yulelog August 14, 2007 at 8:47 pm

PS: there’s no comparison between VANOC and Disney, either. Disney is wholly private corporation, whereas the Olympics are funded by you and me.

Kimberly Baker August 15, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Yes the Olympics are historically funded by the tax payer, however there are a number of key players who are highly invested in these events.

When large-scale cultural events such as the Olympics come to a country, The Olympic organizers package the city of choice in visual marketable terms as a way to attract investors. National governments and non-governmental bodies such as trans-national investors who have large economic investments in place typically organize these events. Ultimately their highest priority is to protect their investments. Anyone critiquing the event or the government is seen as a threat and is at the very least censored.

Through out the history of the Olympics, political protests have accompanied these events. It is this desire of the Olympic organizers to package the country of choice favorably and this is what inevitably outrages the people who see the reality of the social injustices being swept under the rug by the hegemonic power structures. In this way the Olympics have become a political platform to bring social issues to the forefront of the world. I see this issue more as a global issue.
For example in Beijing on Aug 6, 2007 Members of Reporters Without Borders, protested the government of failing to meet promises for greater media freedom one year ahead of the 2008 Olympic games. They wore t-shirts and flaunted posters depicting the Olympic rings made from handcuffs on a pedestrian bridge outside the headquarters of the Beijing Olympics planning committee in Beijing, China. Police roughed up journalists and escorted them to the airport!

Even in the western world where we think we have civil liberties, it is only a facade. If we push the envelope even slightly wait and see what happens. In Vancouver, British Columbia Canada the planning of the 2010 Olympics is in full swing and the idea of Vancouver being the first sustainable Olympics is being pushed to the side already. The profits of corporatism are over riding civil liberties and the ultimate kicker is the taxpayer ends up paying the bill.

yulelog August 18, 2007 at 6:06 pm

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Kimberly! I completely agree with you re. the thin line between civil liberties and their antithesis — I’m not sure it’s a facade (I’m more idealistic than that), but I’m certain that if we’re complacent about our civil liberties, we could lose them lickety-split. Not many people in the 1930s thought that oh-so-civilized and largely sophisticated and indisputably modern Germany could turn into a totalitarian state. Yet it did, and we only have to contemplate Martin Niemoeller or look at something like the Department of Homeland Security or consider Orwell to start wondering about just how thin the line sometimes gets…

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: