First criminal charges laid under Major Events Management Act

New Zealand
The government has laid the first criminal charges for counterfeiting in relation to the Rugby World Cup, which is being held in New Zealand in 2011. 
New Zealand has specific legislation dealing with ambush marketing for 'major events': the Major Events Management Act. An event organizer can apply to the government to have an event declared a 'major event'. It must be able to show that it has the capacity and intention to:
  • stage and manage the event successfully and professionally; and
  • use all practicable measures available under the existing law to prevent unauthorized commercial exploitation of the major event, and protect its intellectual property and other legal rights. 
The event organizer must also be able to show that the event will, among other things:
  • attract a large number of international participants or spectators; and
  • generate significant tourism opportunities and raise New Zealand’s international profile.
The Rugby World Cup 2011 is being hosted in New Zealand and has been declared a 'major event' under the act. In addition, the government has declared that certain emblems and words, or words used in combination, are 'major event' emblems or words which are prohibited from certain commercial uses. 'Major event' words for the Rugby World Cup include descriptive phrases such as 'Rugby New Zealand 2011' and 'Rugby World Cup'.

The act prohibits the making of a “representation of association with a major event” in a way that is likely to suggest to a reasonable person that there is an association between the major event and goods or services. It is also a criminal offence to import, sell or possess a 'major event' emblem or word in relation to goods. Exceptions to the act include, among others, where the representation is:
  • a personal opinion made for no commercial gain;
  • made for the purposes of reporting news, information or criticism, or a review;
  • the legal or trade name (not being used for the purpose of defeating the intention of act) of the person making the representation; or
  • an existing registered trademark.
The government department responsible for administering the act has recently laid criminal charges against a New Zealand company and its director for importing over 1,000 t-shirts bearing 'major events' insignia. The goods were seized by Customs while they were being imported into New Zealand. If convicted, the company and its director are liable for a fine of up to NZ$150,000.

By laying the first criminal prosecution a year in advance of the Rugby World Cup 2011, the government has indicated its willingness to enforce the act and highlight the consequences of breaching the wide-reaching legislation.

Kate Duckworth, Baldwins, Wellington

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