New Zealand: Tough Laws To Protect The Intellectual Property Of Rugby World Cup 2011 Sponsors

Last Updated: 2 November 2010
Article by Scott Moran

The big intellectual property issues surrounding the Rugby World Cup centre on the Major Events Management Act (MEMA). Essentially this legislation is designed to help organizers protect the interests of sponsors who fund the hosting of such events.

At a very basic level, the MEMA makes it illegal for unauthorised parties to commercially exploit the event. Marketing can fall foul of the Act if the wording or imagery suggests an official connection with the event or if your marketing is present during specified times in specified places.

The Ministry of Economic Development has released guidelines on the MEMA (at and its application to the Rugby World Cup. The guidelines contain various practical examples of advertising activities that are likely to fall foul of the Act, as well as examples of what would be considered legal.

Use of wording or imagery

If advertising is not authorised by the event organiser and features wording and/or imagery suggesting that the advertiser is officially connected with the event (i.e. it creates an association), then it will contravene the MEMA. The Act provides for special protection for certain 'declared' words and/or emblems used in connection with an event. A range of Rugby World Cup words and emblems have been declared under the MEMA; the keywords and emblems are reproduced in the MED guidelines referred to above. Any unauthorised advertising that features use of these words and/or emblems can be presumed to make an association. However, it is important to note that this presumption can be challenged and overcome - if you can establish that an association was unlikely to result from the advertising.

Watch out at the border

The MEMA provides for New Zealand Customs Service to detain goods that come into New Zealand bearing declared words and/or emblems that are not official merchandise. The penalty for knowing use of declared words and/or emblems without authorisation can be as high as $150,000. A consignment of over 1000 t-shirts bearing a Rugby World Cup declared emblem has already been seized by Customs, and the Ministry of Economic Development recently laid its first charges under the Act against CL NZ Trading Company Ltd and its director.

Placement of advertising

This is the second major form of protection against unauthorised commercial exploitation. It seeks to restrict advertising that is placed en route to an event and at the venue itself (or near by) during specified times. While the advertising doesn't have to contain words or imagery that suggest an association with the event, its mere proximity to the venue is considered to create the association.

The restrictions on advertising are limited to:

  1. a specified period - 'a clean period' (probably only the day of a Rugby World Cup match);
  2. specific areas - 'clean zones' (largely the event venue) and 'clean transport routes'.

It is important to note that clean transport routes can only apply to state highways, motorways and railway lines up to 5km from the event. The detail around these 'clean' time frames and areas have yet to be announced.

It will be an offence to place any unauthorized advertising during the clean period either:

  • In a clean zone (or visible from the clean zone); or
  • On a clean transport route (advertising visible from the transport route is okay).

Street trading in the clean zone during the clean period is also a breach of the MEMA. (So setting up a sausage sizzle stand on Walters Road for fans heading to Eden Park will be a 'no no' – if that happens to be within the clean zone).


The MEMA attempts to balance the rights of local businesses with the protections for event sponsors by providing a number of exceptions to the limitations on advertising. For instance, use of trade marks that were registered before 24 September 2007 (being the date that the Rugby World Cup was declared to be a 'major event' under the Act) will not breach the MEMA. Also, advertising that is considered to be in 'accordance with honest business practices' can continue. So businesses with existing billboards on the clean transport route or advertising on buildings visible from the clean zone will not have any problems. But if advertising is planned for just prior to the event, it could be problematic.

Tread carefully

It is hoped that the Rugby World Cup will pump $500m into the local economy, bring more than 60,000 visitors to New Zealand and a collective television audience of four million. Naturally, New Zealand businesses will want to exploit this opportunity. Protections to safeguard the financial interests of sponsors mean that businesses need to tread carefully and be aware of the risks - while seizing the opportunity.

Other Rugby World Cup related legislation

Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully is said to be preparing an 'empowering' Bill for the event designed to fast track the consent and licensing process for events supporting the Rugby World Cup such as liquor licensing and resource consents.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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