The World Cup, currently taking place in South Africa, is well underway. Tomorrow in this blog series, we'll discuss the prevalence of large sponsorship deals that many businesses have with FIFA, the international governing body of football. FIFA takes its role of protecting World Cup sponsors very seriously, and the warnings it has issued towards many businesses are ones that should be heeded.

The World Cup is a seductive opportunity for many international businesspeople. It is widely-viewed, popular in many countries, and comes along infrequently enough so that when it does, people pay lots of attention to it. Thus, it isn’t surprising that many businesses, especially ones in hospitality trade (pubs, bars, cafes) try and make use of the World Cup to increase business. Essentially, if not on FIFA’s official sponsor list, using the phrases “South Africa 2010,” “FIFA World Cup,” using World Cup logos, and even showing pictures of the World Cup trophy can get one into copyright trouble.

FIFA’s rigorous and aggressive stance towards copyright infringements on World Cup terminology and imagery show the importance of branding. Clive Halperin, an intellectual property expert at law firm GSC, rightly notes: "Sponsors pay huge money for the right to link to the World Cup; they won't pay that money unless they believe Fifa will vigorously protect their interests." The World Cup is a brand. Companies affiliated with it will receive more attention during the cup and potentially more business as well. If everybody was able to use the World Cup brand to improve their sales, then the notion of sponsorship would be useless.

In essence, the case of World Cup copyrights can serve as both a lesson in the importance of brand protection (if you have a unique and influential brand, make sure it’s only being used by who you want it to be used by), and the importance of a brand itself. That is, especially on the international stage, developing and maintaining something to be known for is an important distinction that will give current and potential customers a sense of comfort and consistency in purchasing your product.

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