August 20, 2015 Alchemist Studios

Influence, Fluke or Plagiarism?

Most people have a rough idea of what the Japanese flag looks like. For those who cannot readily bring it to mind, here it is.

Japanese flag

As with many countries, when Japan won the 2020 Olympic and Paralympics bid, the commercial bandwagon began to roll, along with the need for an official logo.

The event will be taking place in Tokyo, but when the chosen logo was unveiled late last month, not everyone was thrilled with the design.  Critics took to social media to express how, in their view, the emblem’s red dot and “T” was an effort by Tokyo to personalize the 2020 Olympics rather than celebrate the games as an international showcase. However, that was nothing when compared to what happened next.

The Japanese artist Kenjiro Sano who designed the logo has been accused of plagiarising the concept.  Belgian designer, Olivier Debie, came forward last week, threatening to take the International Olympic Committee to court over the 2020 logo looking too much like the emblem he had made for a theatre in the eastern Belgian city of Liege.

Take a look at the twitter feed clip that Debie has posted in support of his claim and see what you think. There are definite distinct similarities.

According to the Mirror, Debie reportedly sent a letter to both organizations urging them to stop using the Tokyo 2020 logo, to which the IOC declined to refrain usage. Debie is claiming the logo represents copyright infringement, but the IOC and Tokyo Games organisers have dismissed the claims, saying that the theatre’s emblem was not trademarked.

In another twist in the story, Sano actually recently admitted to plagiarizing another set of logos he was commissioned to create for Japanese beverage firm, Suntory. Of that particular situation, Sano said he “failed to properly supervise his staff and conceded that they had ‘copied’ the ideas of others in creating tote bags for Suntory’s non-alcoholic beer campaign.”  Of this separate ordeal, Sano said, “I feel very sorry for causing great trouble to the people concerned.”

Mark Twain famously said “There’s no such thing as an original idea. Every idea worth having has been had thousands of times already.” That’s as maybe, however there is such a thing as being the first to give a real commercial or physical form to an idea.

When you consider that 90% of the world outside Belgium has never heard of Liege, let alone its theatre, how likely is it that Sano had stumbled across this logo?  Did Sano fail to “properly supervise his staff” again, or is it just his misfortune that his logo has certain similarities with the Belgian one. Did his recent history put dollar signs in Debie’s eyes when he googled Sano making him think, and mine looks a bit like that?  Maybe Debie genuinely thinks that Sano did copy his idea.

Only Sano will know the truth about whether his logo design’s similarity was conceived by influence or plagiarism, or if it was just a creative fluke.

As professional logo designers, we are proud of our unique and innovative designs.

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