The Tokyo 2020 emblem was announced in July of 2015, the end of an international competition where over 100 designs were entered. When the black, gold, gray and red design of geometric shapes debuted, it was not only greeted with an underwhelming yawn, it was slapped with a lawsuit for plagiarism. The designer of the logo for a theater in Belgium felt that the design, sans the red circle, was essentially the same.
For weeks, the designer of the winning emblem, Kenjiro Sano, twisted in the wind as the poo poo hit the fan. In this day and age of the internet and social media, other examples of possible plagiarism by Sano’s firm popped up. Eventually, Tokyo2020 withdrew its supports of Sano’s logo, and started a second competition for a new design.
What I found interesting is that you can buy a T-shirt with the Sano logo on Amazon. In fact, I did, as you can see above. The quality of the shirt is so so, but for 11 bucks I have a shirt that is essentially vestimenta non grata. (You can’t find this shirt on Amazon Japan.)
The Tokyo 2020 emblem designed by Kenjiro Sano has been all the (out)rage in recent months, for its likeness to the logo of The Theatre de Liege in Brussels. The designer was so humiliated by criticism that he asked the Olympic committee to drop the emblem, which they eventually did.
But as I had written earlier, creating the perfectly unique design is a challenge where everything is available on the internet and in reality, everything is iterative. Apparently, the 2016 Rio Olympic emblem went through the same criticism days after its launch, on January 2, 2011, according to this article.
The multi-color representation of three people linking arms and legs in a series of loops that resemble an Elton John pair of sunglasses was apparently seen as a copy of the logo of the Telluride Foundation, a non-profit based in Colorado, US with the aim of creating a sustainable and thriving community.
OK, the color schemes are similar, they both have arms linking, yes they invoke the feeling of the other, but they aren’t the same. I’d say there are more similarities between the Telluride logo and the renown painting, The Dance, by Henri Matisse. Fortunately, this French painter and sculptor is dead, and won’t be complaining about people or non-profit organizations ripping off his ideas.
Copying is a key component of learning. There is nothing new under the sun, and we stand on the shoulders of giants…to shamelessly borrow these words of wisdom.
Many well established writers may have started off by mimicking Ernest Hemmingway’s simple, direct tone. Microsoft’s Windows GUI was borrowed from Apple’s Macintosh GUI which was borrowed from Xerox’s PARC research.
As James Abegglen and George Stalk wrote in their classic book on the Japanese corporation – Kaisha – “In the high-growth U.S. economy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans took great pride in what was termed ‘Yankee ingenuity.’ By this was generally meant the taking in of European discoveries and developments, adapting and commercializing them, and building on these imported technologies.”
The line between copying and creativity is fine. My favorite example is George Harrison’s 1970 “My Sweet Lord“, which was the center of a copyright infringement lawsuit where Harrison was ruled to have subconsciously plagiarized Ronnie Mack’s 1963 song “He’s So Fine“.
George Harrison has such a body of work that screams creativity that no one will begrudge him this.
And to be honest, I was going to give designer, Kenjiro Sano, the benefit of the doubt when his Tokyo 2020 logo was thought to be a copy of the Theatre de Liege logo, created by Olivier Debie. But the recent revelations that Sano’s firm essentially traced designs of another firm for use in a major marketing campaign by giant Japanese beverages corporation, Suntory, is sad. Suntory ended up pulling those blatantly copied designs from their marketing campaign.
You can see in this illustration below recent designs by Sano where he
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