Soccer’s governing body FIFA said it found more cases of copyright infringement related to next year’s World Cup in Brazil than it did a year before South Africa hosted sports’ most-watched event in 2010.
Auke-Jan Bossenbroek, FIFA’s legal counsel responsible for protecting the Zurich-based organization’s trademarks, said action has been taken in the past six months against about 100 companies that don’t have permission to use protected words or logos related to the World Cup, which kicks off in Rio de Janeiro a year from today.
“So far we’ve been able to solve all of the cases,” Bossenbroek told reporters yesterday, explaining that the majority of incidents involved small companies and didn’t require legal action. “It’s significant, but I guess it also shows the incredible interest and incredible enthusiasm for the event that we are organizing.”
FIFA and the local organizing committee have sold sponsorship rights to the monthlong event to 20 companies whose combined involvement is $1.4 billion through a mixture of direct cash payments and services. Coca Cola Co., one of FIFA’s longest-tenured sponsors, is providing 5 million beverages for the tournament and Hyundai Motor Co. will deliver 1,400 vehicles to transport officials and teams in 12 host cities.
FIFA has been accused by small-business owners of being heavy-handed in its protection of rights at its flagship competition, which is responsible for about 90 percent of its income. Marketing Director Thierry Weil said FIFA has a responsibility to partners who have “invested quite a significant amount of money to be part of the event.”
FIFA has trademarked slogans including Brazil 2014 and Copa 2014, and also the image of its current gold trophy, which was first awarded in 1974 after Brazil got to keep the original Jules Rimet trophy by winning the World Cup three times.
While the majority of cases have been solved “by a phone call,” Bossenbroek said, there have been instances of large corporations trying to use the popularity of the World Cup in marketing material and promotional activity.
During the 2010 tournament in South Africa, FIFA filed charges against organizers of an ambush marketing campaign for a Dutch beer brand during a match between the Netherlands and Denmark. FIFA’s reaction to the incident, which featured about 30 women wearing identical orange dresses, meant that Lieshout, Netherlands-based Bavaria, the company behind the stunt, got publicity for several days.
While FIFA’s actions may have given the beer brand more publicity than it might have gotten had no action been taken, doing nothing isn’t an option, Weil said. The case was settled out of court.
“If you don’t do anything, when will it stop?” Weil asked. “We have many cases in the past where you have 10 people coming in wearing one big t-shirt, with one big brand. That’s organized.”
Many of the cases in Brazil have been the result of local businesses not understanding the rules related to using World Cup logos, Bossenbroek said. A team of FIFA officials will travel to the 12 host cities across Brazil to explain to businesses what they can and can’t do when trying to prosper from the event being in their country.
“Let’s be fair play to each other,” Weil said. “You who are here continue to make business, if you have not bought into the commercial program don’t jump on this and misuse marks.”