CanaMan Ready to Take on the World (and VANOC Lawyers) as Vancouver Olympics Draw Near

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Washington State high school student raises money for school trip; finds humor in unprecedented Olympic trademark restrictions

Jessica Hiestand, 16, of exit 276.com, with her CanaMan product line: CanaMan, CanaSkier, CanaShredder (snowboarder) and CanaMoose

Jessica Hiestand, 16, of exit 276.com, with her CanaMan product line: CanaMan, CanaSkier, CanaShredder (snowboarder) and CanaMoose

I mean, how can anybody say they own the word ‘2010’?

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It’s not exactly David and Goliath and slingshots -- but in a complex, 21st century world a 16-year-old Ferndale, Wash., girl says she’s ready to do battle with the VANOC juggernaut.

VANOC, the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, probably doesn’t know she exists, says Jessica Hiestand, a junior at Ferndale High School, but if they and their army of trademark lawyers come knocking, she says she’s ready for them.

Hiestand says she was looking for ways to make some money to help fund a high school trip her Spanish class is taking to Costa Rica this summer. Since she lives smack dab in the middle of the route between Seattle and Vancouver, where tens of thousands of Olympic visitors are expected to pass through starting this week, she smelled opportunity.

She came up with CanaMan. CanaMan figures, Hiestand says, are her custom rendition of Inunnguaq (pronounced Ee-non-WAWK), which are the human-shaped versions of the traditional stone landmarks known as Inuksuit, which were used for centuries by Inuit and other native peoples as they traveled the Arctic regions of North America.

But, she says, they are Inunnguaq with a twist. In addition to a fairly traditional looking “rock man,” she also sells a CanaShredder, which is an Inunnguaq snowboarder, a CanaSkier on skis and a CanaMoose figure. From leftover rock, she’s also made “limited edition” CanaMan figures, such as a CanaSkater, CanaEagle and CanaLuger, a rock man strapped to a rock sled.

She says she and her dad have spent nights and weekends in their garage churning out CanaMan figures, made from Canadian basalt veneer stone they carefully select at a local rock yard.

“They’re pretty cool,” Hiestand says. “Because the rock breaks differently each time, no two are alike. You can be kinda creative…. They are solid and sturdy. People who’ve seen them really seem to like them.”

The problems with VANOC arose when she started thinking up ways to market CanaMan.

“I put together what I thought was a pretty cool label and some brochures and stuff that showed CanaMan and said it would be a good souvenir for visitors going to the Olympics,” she said. “But when I showed it to my dad, he said ‘I don’t know if you can do that.’”

Hiestand’s dad is a lawyer for a nonprofit group that helps high school and college student journalists across the U.S. stay out of legal trouble. He does some copyright and trademark law and said he’d seen stories about VANOC’s aggressive copyright and trademark enforcement.

So the pair started doing research and it turns out that VANOC, with help from the Canadian government, has indeed gone to unprecedented lengths to protect the Olympic brand.

“It’s crazy,” Hiestand said. “They say they own not just things like the Olympic ring logo and the Olympic name — fine — but also words like ‘winter,’ ‘gold,’ ‘silver,’ ‘bronze,’ ‘sponsor,’ ‘Vancouver,’ ‘Whistler,’ ‘21st,’ ‘tenth,’ ‘medals,’ ‘games’ and ‘2010.’ I mean, how can anybody say they own the word ‘2010’?”

Indeed, VANCOC’s tactics have raised concerns and sharp criticism from lawyers and other experts that follow trends in trademark and copyright law.

In an interview with The New York Times, Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa described the trademark restrictions as "highly problematic."

"It creates the prospect of a David and Goliath fight over free speech," Geist said.

Hiestand decided that rather than back down, she’d just have some fun with the trademark restrictions.
She created a Web site — exit276.com — named for the last exit on U.S. Interstate 5, in Blaine, Wash., before northbound travelers enter Canada — in which she goes out of her way not to mention any of VANOC’s protected words.

“I hope your CanaMan will serve as a lasting reminder of your trip to Canada at the beginning of the year Twenty-Ten, where you may have witnessed men and women from around the world competing in and around lower British Columbia in a quadrennial series of seasonally-inspired sporting events and heart-stirring pageantry,” the Web site reads.

“Because we have no official connection to the referenced event (and hope to keep it that way), the official name of this sports-oriented gathering, which is overseen by a huge multinational conglomerate that employs a cadre of trademark lawyers ready to pounce, shall not be spoken.”

After she’d started making CanaMan figures, someone told her that the official Olympic store was also selling their own Inunnguaq figures, patterned after one of the official Vancouver Olympics logos, for anywhere between $150 to $1,880 (USD).

Hiestand remained unfazed.

“I like my CanaMan much better. They’re a lot more fun. And cheaper.”

CanaMan figures start at about $25 (USD).

When asked if she was worried about trademark or copyright problems in selling her rock statues, Hiestand laughed.

“Native people have been making these sorts of rock figures for thousands of years. If anything, I think VANOC should be worried about violating their trademark,” she said.

Sources:
http://www.exit276.com
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/02/technology/02iht-olympics.1.5109262.html

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