London cracks down on unofficial souvenirs

The London Olympics pop up on teapots, bunting and a one-eyed mascot -- but strict branding laws are in place to ensure that official products are the only ones in the race.

Union Jack umbrellas bearing the 2012 logo are sure to be a hit if the British weather doesn't brighten up and would contribute to the £1 billion (1.24 billion euros, $1.57 billion) of merchandise which Olympics organisers hope to sell.

But souvenir seekers looking for something more unusual may have to dig a little deeper.

Unauthorised t-shirts showing the Beatles carrying the Olympic rings as they cross a London street in the iconic picture from their "Abbey Road" album cover have been spotted at one street market in the British capital.

However it is rare to find unofficial goods which have slipped through the net.

The restrictions on Olympics branding are watertight and have given rise to several widely reported cases where small businesses have fallen foul of the law, apparently deterring others from doing the same.

Butcher Dennis Spurr hit the headlines when he was ordered to take down a sign at his shop in Weymouth, southern England, because it depicted a string of sausages in the formation of the Olympic rings.

Then there was the lingerie shop in Melton Mowbray, central England, which was forced to take down five coloured hula hoops hung on sports-bra mannequins in its window display.

Dorothy Weston, a sales assistant at JJ's Lingerie, said she was "completely shocked" when trading standards officers entered the store on the day the Olympic torch was passing through the town and ordered the owners to remove the rings.

"They said we had to take them down because it contravenes rules on protection of the Olympic logo... and that we could be fined or even imprisoned," she said.

"All we were selling were bras," she added. "It was really disheartening."

Under the legislation introduced in 1995, the Olympic rings, the London 2012 logo, and the official mascot -- the one-eyed Wenlock -- are all protected by law.

In addition, Britain's parliament passed the 2006 London Olympics Games Act a year after London won the right to host the event, giving sponsors and licensees exclusive authorisation to associate themselves with the Games.

But Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said he did not want local authorities to punish small retailers, including bakers who might make cakes with an Olympic theme.

"I gave the commitment when the Act came through that this would be carried out in a sensible and proportionate way and I stick by that," Robertson said on Wednesday.

"You can only decide on a case-to-case basis; no one has been prosecuted yet."

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) says these rules are necessary in order to protect exclusivity of the brand for official Games sponsors -- including Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Samsung and Cadbury -- and the revenue they provide to fund the Games.

It says the rules are designed to prevent "ambush marketing" -- an attempt by businesses to attach themselves to an event without paying sponsorship fees.

"In order to stage the Games we had to raise at least £700m in sponsorship, and we cannot do that if we do not offer our partners protection," a LOCOG spokeswoman said.

"The London 2012 brand is our most valuable asset and if we did not take steps to protect it from unauthorised use and ambush marketing, the exclusive rights which our partners have acquired would be undermined."

Paul Jordan is the head of advertising and marketing practice for British law firm Bristows, which is acting for two global Olympics partners.

"The legislation is very tough but in many respects necessary to ensure that the lead sponsors that are putting in literally hundreds of millions of pounds are afforded a high level of exclusivity," said Jordan.

For the businesses who are not Olympic partners, Jordan advises they "play the patriotism card".

"A lot of advertising campaigns that started with the queen's diamond jubilee in June and then moved onto Wimbledon, revolve a great deal around flag waving," he said.

Visitors to London will have no problem in finding Olympics merchandise -- though it may not be to everyone's taste.

Wenlock and his Paralympic counterpart Mandeville were derided by some as "ugly" when they were launched in 2010. LOCOG hopes they will generate £70 million.

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