Focus: Sponsorship, news, social media and the Olympics
26 July 2012
In brief: How does the International Olympic Committee balance protecting its sponsors' commercial interests while also looking to increase the public's interaction with the London Olympics through social media? Partner Ian McGill (view CV) and Law Graduate Byron Frost examine the scope and effect of the International Olympic Committee's rules and guidelines on social media and news access.
- News Access Rules
- Fair use provisions and News Access Rules
- Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines
- A practical view
How does it affect you?
- The International Olympics Committee (IOC) has issued rules and guidelines to regulate media usage at the London Olympics. The IOC's News Access Rules and Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines are there to protect the commercial investments by media rights holders and corporate partners of the Olympic Games.
- Non-rights holders must strictly adhere to the News Access Rules to avoid revocation of access to venues including the Olympic Village, Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and International Broadcast Centre etc.
- Athletes and other accredited persons must adhere to the social media guidelines to avoid possible withdrawal of their Olympic accreditation.
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London will be the biggest sporting event in the world this year, attracting unrivalled coverage on television, radio, print, online, mobile and tablet.
The IOC generates 47 per cent of its revenue from broadcast rights. In fact, the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympics have generated some US$3.9 billion in rights fees.
In 2008, TV rights holders of the Beijing Olympic Games broadcast 61,700 hours of coverage worldwide with an audience reach of 4.3 billion people. The IOC's YouTube channel (available in 78 territories where online rights were not on-sold) had 21 million hits, and the official Games website had 105.7 million unique visitors (see the IOC Marketing Report Beijing 2008).
In Australia, the 2008 online broadcaster Yahoo!7 had more than 4 million live and on-demand video streams, and recorded more than 32 million page hits.
In terms of corporate support the IOC's current TOP Programme has generated US$866 million in cash, goods and services to the Olympic movement from companies such as Coco-Cola, Atos Origin, McDonalds, GE and Samsung etc. This represents around 40 per cent of IOC revenue and is second only to media rights in terms of value.
In Australia, the media rights for the 2012 London Games are held by the Nine Network (free-to-air rights), Foxtel (subscription television), Macquarie Radio Network (commercial radio rights) and Australian Broadcasting Corporation (non-commercial radio rights). Nine and Foxtel collectively paid a reported $120 million for the Vancouver and London Olympic media rights and have on-sold the radio components of the rights package. According to a report in The Australian in April, Nine expects to book some $140 million in advertising sales for its games coverage, while Foxtel can expect upwards of $20 million.1
The Olympics are a massive corporate exercise, with billions of dollars of investment by media companies, corporate partners and governments alike. To protect these investments and to ensure maximum exposure for sponsors during the games period, the IOC has developed and implemented News Access Rules and Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines.
The News Access Rules (NAR) restrict non-rights holders from broadcasting sound or moving images of any Games event. This includes training venues, sporting action, the opening and closing ceremony, victory ceremonies, mixed zones, interviews or other activities that occur at Olympic venues, including the Olympic Park Common Domain, Olympic Village and Village Square.
However, the NAR does allow non-rights holders to broadcast footage from these Olympic venues for a maximum of six minutes per day, but only if the broadcast forms part of a regularly scheduled daily news program.
The NAR specifies that:
- the footage/sound cannot be broadcast in more than three news programs per day, and
- the footage/sound cannot be shown for more than two minutes in each of those news programs; and
- there must be a break of at least three hours between news programs.
If the Olympic event is less than 15 seconds in total, the whole event can be shown, otherwise one-third of the event or 30 seconds of the event (whichever is shorter) can be shown.
This places restrictions on non-rights holders. For example, the Seven Network (a non-rights holder) has daily news bulletins at 5:30am, 6am-9am (Sunrise), 11:30am, 4:30pm and 6pm. According to NAR, the 4:30pm and 6pm bulletin could not both contain Olympic material, as the broadcast is separated by less than three hours (unless the rights holders come to a separate agreement with the non-rights holders).
In respect of an all-news network such as ABC News 24, they can:
- show six minutes of Olympic footage per day;
- in no more than six news programs;
- with no more than one minute of footage in any one program; and
- there must also be a gap of two hours between bulletins.
Furthermore, unless otherwise agreed with the local rights holder, Olympic footage cannot be broadcast until three hours after broadcast by the rights holder. For example, if Nine broadcast live James Magnussen's 100m freestyle final at 7am AEST, Seven could not broadcast a report using Nine's footage until after 10am AEST.
The watermark of the official territory broadcaster must also be left on any footage.
In a move to protect the Games' commercial partners, non-rights holders also cannot place any advertising message before, during, or after the broadcast of Olympic Material. This prevents a television station from introducing its news segment for example as 'this London 2012 update is brought to you by Company XYZ'. It also prevents pull-through advertisements during the broadcast.
The NAR extends to non-rights holding radio stations and incorporates the Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines (discussed below in detail) into the rules.
The impact of NAR for Australian non-rights holders is somewhat clouded by the fair use provisions in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (the CA). Section 103B of the CA provides that copyright infringement will not occur where there is a fair use by news organisations of copyrighted content for the reporting of news.
In our article Sport and new media (July 2008), the question of fair use and the NAR was examined by Allens Partner Miriam Stiel. The article referred to the Federal Court case of Telstra Corporation Limited v Premier Media Group Pty Limited. The case concerned the use by the Fox Sports website of NRL match footage in online video summaries, which Telstra alleged infringed the online rights it had been granted by the NRL. As the case was settled before final hearing no definitive answer was forthcoming on the question of fair use of copyrighted sports content in a news or highlights package.
A subsequent case in 2010, Fairfax v Reed (see our Intellectual Property Law Bulletin) discussed the issue of fair use in relation to newspaper headlines.
Justice Bennett at paragraph  said it was a fair use for Reed International's abstract service to use the AFR's headlines, as it enabled 'users to scan in a comprehensive and efficient manner across a wide range of publications for news items of interest and then to go to the original publication to read those items in full.' This provides some illustration of what may be considered fair use under the CA but is not definitive in relation to Olympic footage.
To date, there have been no court decisions in relation to fair use and the NAR.
Facebook commands approximately 850 million users and Twitter has 300 million users worldwide,2 including many Olympic athletes. The growth and prevalence of social media has seen the IOC respond by issuing Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines (SMBIG).
The blurring of the lines between personal posts/tweets and those promoting sponsors has seen the need for the IOC to protect the interests of its broadcast and commercial partners.
According to SMBIG, the IOC will permit participants and other accredited persons to post comments on social media platforms or websites and tweet during the Olympics (including on a personal blog). The postings and comments must be in a 'first-person, diary-type format' and not in the role of a journalist.
Participants and other accredited persons can post photographs online but only if they are for personal use. They cannot post any video/audio from inside Olympic venues. Athletes are therefore banned from posting online any handheld footage they record at the opening ceremony.
Participants and other accredited persons are also restricted from:
- using the Olympic symbol (ie the five interlaced rings);
- using the word 'Olympics' in a domain name for their personal blog outside the Games period. The following is an example of an acceptable and unacceptable use during the Games period:
- acceptable – www.allens.com.au/olympics
- unacceptable – www.allensolympics.com; and
- promoting 'any brand, product or service within a posting, blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platform or on any website.'
Unless there is approval for sponsorship of an athlete from the IOC or the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), no participant can enter into a commercial agreement with any company with respect to online postings. For those companies that have sponsored athletes, who are not an IOC or AOC sponsor, their ability to leverage an athlete sponsorship online is limited during the games period. For example they could not have an athlete tweet or blog exclusively from the games prescient on a branded site without approval.
The recent action by the AOC in banning Olympic Swimmers Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk from staying in the Olympic village after the completion of their swimming events highlights the difficulties social media poses for Olympic organisers.
D'Arcy and Monk were photographed posing with guns in a US gun-shop. The controversy began when Monk uploaded the photo onto Facebook and Twitter, which caused ructions in the community and potentially upset sponsors who have invested millions of dollars into the Olympic team, Olympic-related activations or advertising campaigns.
The 2012 IOC SMBIG provides that 'postings, blogs and tweets should at all times conform...be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar or obscene words or images'. Furthermore, the Media Guidelines in the AOC's 2012 Athlete Membership Agreement provide that 'comments made in social media activities...must not be offensive, inappropriate, defamatory, misleading, deceptive or otherwise illegal.'
The SMBIG is an important element in the balancing act that the IOC and national Olympic committees face in protecting commercial investments from the risks of social media, while at the same time engaging with social media to drive further interaction by the public in Olympic activities.
- The Australian, $149m in sight for Nine Olympics cover, Darren Davidson, 23 April 2012.
- Chris Taylor, Social Media Companies – A Cheat Sheet.
- Ian McGillPartner,
Ph: +61 2 9230 4893
- Gavin SmithPartner,
Ph: +61 2 9230 4891
- Michael PattisonPartner,
Ph: +61 3 9613 8839
- Niranjan ArasaratnamPartner, Sector Leader - Technology, Media & Telecommunications,
Ph: +61 3 9613 8324