Carpet Cleaner Loses Bid for Right to Say #TeamUSA

rio rings

When the Olympic Games are here, who doesn’t want to talk about them on social media?

A Minnesotan carpet cleaning service had a number of posts in mind during the 2016 Rio Olympics but felt restricted by the U.S. Olympic Committee’s social media rules.

HSK LLC, dba Zerorez, asked a court right before the start of the games to declare that talking about the Olympics on social media is okay.  But just this week, the court turned it down.

The committee’s brand usage guidelines bar businesses from posting about the games and using hashtags such as #TeamUSA and #Rio2016 on their corporate social media accounts.  Zerorez alleged that the committee’s policies had the effect of “chilling, silencing, and censoring” its speech.

But no actual controversy existed between the parties, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota said. The Olympic committee didn’t threaten litigation against Zerorez, let alone communicate directly with the company regarding its trademarked words.

Zerorez had cited letters from the committee to other businesses regarding its social media rules, as well as media reports that the committee threatened to take legal action against those who infringed its marks on social media.  But those reports don’t create a concrete dispute between the committee and Zerorez—even if they made the company “reluctant” to post about the Olympics, the court said.

Aaron Hall, attorney for Zerorez and managing partner of JUX Law Firm, told Bloomberg BNA that although the committee won this battle, the “war over free speech” isn’t over.

“We believe our Constitutional freedom of speech gives patriotic small businesses the right to express their Olympic spirit on social media,” Hall said. “If the U.S. Olympic Committee continues to chill free speech, I suspect it won’t be long before another small business seeks legal protection from the courts.”