Photos Documenting the Illegal Use of Olympic Branding

The 2012 London Olympics is pretty strict about how the Games’ branding is used, prohibiting the unauthorized use of everything from the Olympic symbol to the word “Olympic”. Enforcing the rules is another story, as businesses both near and far use Olympic branding extensively to promote their own interests. Photographer Craig Atkinson recently decided to start a project documenting illegal uses in London through a photo project titled Illegal Olympics.

In addition to his own photos, Atkinson is also collecting images from the general public. He’s planning to publish a set of the images in an upcoming photo book.

Illegal Olympics by Craig Atkinson (via BOOOOOOOM)

Image credits: Photographs by Craig Atkinson

  • Roger Thornhill

    Stop snitchin’ . :)

  • jack

    He wouldn’t be Snitching if he was profiting from it!

  • 9inchnail

    So if it’s prohibited to use the word “Olympics” and he calls his project, which he publishes online, “Illegal Olympics”, isn’t the whole project illegal itself?

  • Craig Atkinson

    It’s not about snitching it’s about me collecting images and making a book, as I do with many things. The Olympics is a celebration, as are the signs people are using. Only in very few cases that I’ve seen are people actually trying to pass something off as official. It’s the mix of official and unofficial language that I’m interested in. I have for a long time collected images of hand-made signs – this is just a small and specific part of that project really.

  • tonster

    The olympics could see that as ‘free advertising’ instead of becoming so rediculous with the branding. This just shows me how much the olympic committee cares about money and not the idea and spirit of the games.

  • rtfe

    can i use your images for my own unofficial book?

  • rtfe


  • Craig Atkinson

    I don’t think the project is. Perhaps the name of the project, but only for the duration of the said event. So in two weeks it won’t be, perhaps.

  • Craig Atkinson

    No. I’m not using anyone else’s images except those who have submitted work for the project. I’m not breaking copyright with the images I’m using.

  • rtfe

    oh, uh, i wasn’t asking if i could submit my own images, i was asking if i could use your images for my own unofficial olympic book chronicling a photographer’s perspective towards copyrighted material. i don’t believe in “owning” a particular photo or catchy logo. it’s a book for the people made by some guy. thanks

  • Craig Atkinson

    I know what you were asking, and I understand your sarcasm. The answer is still no.

  • rtfe

    your sarcasm is a yes, i take it. thank you!

  • Craig Atkinson

    you’re a funny man/woman.

  • rtfe

    you too

  • Mr.New

    I think all the samples are fine. Look at question #20. To me, it is very clear that none of these businesses are endorse by the committee, because they are not using the official mark/pictogram.

  • 9inchnail

    It’s an interesting point. You take photos of copyright infringements and try to make money off of them. Is that illegal? I don’t know.
    If I take photos of thousands of counterfeited Windows 8 dvds, the photos will be perfectly legal. If I take a photo of the Mona Lisa, it’s copyright infringement. If I printed that photo and someone else photographed my photo with my permission, would his photo still be a copyright infringement? INCEPTION !!!

    What I’m saying: These people are ripping off the Olympics symbol. By photographing them and actually making money with these photos, you might get in trouble. Handpainted signs can also be considered pieces of art and you could also get sued for photographing them without permission.

    Funny, how offended you are when someone wants to use your photo.

  • Craig Atkinson

    I wasn’t offended.
    Hand painted signs could be art, depends on the context and purpose. Bob and Roberta Smith for example, vs ‘free manure’ sign up the road.
    Your example would be along the lines of taking a photo of a house, printing it, selling the print and being sued by the architect.
    The book is simply documenting a selection of illegally placed / made / used signs.
    The fact that its the Olympics, to my mind, makes it more interesting than Windows 8 DVDs, and just as legal.

  • bri

    they can’t trademark the word ‘Olympic’ come on. And as far as I’m concerned the Olympic Rings is an internationally known symbol. Stopping people from using it completely goes against the spirit of the games. It’s become nothing but a money maker lately. Yet host cities often end up paying off debts for years and years.

  • bob cooley

    This would actually fall under fair use. This is one of those rare occasions where the exception is actually applicable (many people claim fair use, but incorrectly).

    Its an editorial/journalistic piece and reporting specifically on the use of the ‘illegal’ logos – so using those images of the hand-made logos and any commentary on it is protected under the fair use exception.

    Imagine if every time any news organization used a logo, image, or the word “Olympics” they had to get approval from the USOC. They would get no coverage at all…

  • bob cooley

    It’s not illegal, the images of the illegal logos, when used in context as a documentary piece become a derivative work.

    If they were just photos of the logos themselves it would be murkier, but because Craig is shooting them within both the context of where they are used, showing the environments, and within the cultural context of how shopkeepers are engaging in Olympic spirit to attract customers, its clearly becomes a documentary/journalistic piece and also falls under fair use (which can be used commercially as a book, etc.). He couldn’t use the images to promote a product (a soda, footwear, etc. etc.) but as long as it stays in the arena of art (gallery show) and journalism (even in book form) – its perfectly ethical and legal for him to create and profit from the images.

    Full disclosure: I don’t know Craig at all – but I was a photojournalist for nearly 20 years, and a commercial shooter for 10 (with some crossover in the years), and I’ve had legal counsel on very analogous publishing situations. IANAL, but my lawyer is…

  • Craig Atkinson

    @bobcooley:disqus Thanks for your replies Bob. You’ve set it out much more articulately than I ever could! As a few more words, which I just added to a question on Facebook:

    I collect images of things. One of those things is hand-made signs, another is tat, kitsch, all categorised as collections of certain things. My personal view is that the Olympic branding laws are too harsh and prevent the ‘British Spirit’. I think it would be great to see every shop front have hand-drawn Olympic rings on its window. A lot of my books document something that is either transient, ephemeral or could potentially be of sociological interest in the future. This is ‘just another’ of them. I am documenting something that wont last, but which is there now. Someone has to.

  • Kbledsoephoto

    Hmm I wonder about the people who have the Olympic rings tattooed on their body…is that an issue as much as having them up in your store window? :P How could they solve that one???

  • Ed

    Seriously, you’re calling this illegal? That’s just disgusting. The people of London funded the games with their tax money. They have to put up with the disruption and years of debt afterwards, and they can’t even draw 5 rings on a chalkboard? It’s funny how the Olympics is all about universal participation and collective support – when it comes to making the common person pay for it. But when anyone wants to use it, then the lawyers step in with their licensing fees and contracts. The real “art” of this photo series in revealing how laughably out of touch with reality the olympics are, and what a bunch of money-grabbing vampires the IOC has become.

  • jannx

    Craig, I’m not going to get into the argument about use. I figure the IOC are parasites so I don’t care. Good luck on that part. I’m more interested in how big a demand there would be for such ephemeral images as these from London’s Olympics. How can you make this work so you’re in the black… demand publishing like Blurb? cheers Jx