When it comes to Olympic logo roll outs, claims of awfulness, plagiarism and knockoffery seem like a rite of passage. The 2020 Japan edition is no different.

I’ve stayed away from this dust-up for a couple of reasons. The first was we were in the middle of launching a new version of our site and when the story broke, I had neither the time or the inclination to write about it. Besides, harping about Olympic logos was so 2007. Added to that, our (now) legacy blog had supposedly wrapped up and this location still wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Also, I didn’t really buy these claims of plagiarism – seemed a bit of a stretch – so gave the usual indignation that comes with such things a pass. Trouble is, the issue hasn’t gone away – it’s only amplified over the past few weeks – and judging by our Google analytics thingamajig, a lot of users are searching for information on the Japan 2020 Olympics logo. So, without further adieu, let’s break it down..

The logo is announced.

July 24, the Olympic committee proudly trot out the new logo. It looks something like this..
japan-2020-olympics-logoKinda useless to be honest. Considering some of the past logos, this one is bland, soulless dreck, unbefitting an event that’s supposed to be a celebration of amateur sport (an argument of its own) and something more akin to a logo for a mortician convention. If it’s to be used with the Olympic rings attached (which it’s supposed to be) it’s too tall and skinny. It’s grey. It’s lifeless. It’s dull. Anyhoo, the logo was designed by some cat called Kenjiro Sano and this is what it’s meant to represent:

“The logo resembles a stylized “T”; a red circle in the top-right corner represents a beating heart, the flag of Japan, and an “inclusive world”, and a black column in the center represents diversity”

Cough *bullshit* cough. Anyways, despite some fanfare, the logo landed with a dull thud and general reaction was that of a giant “meh.” At least around these parts.

The accusations begin.

The ink wasn’t even dry on the press releases before accusations of knockoffery started flying. Belgian graphic designer Olivier Debie started bitching that the new Olympic logo, without the circle in the top-right, used a similar layout and shapes as a logo he had designed for the Théâtre de Liège a fancy-pants theater in Liège. Here’s what the design for the theater looks like beside the Olympic one:
Listen, I get it. I’m an absolutist about logo copycats and get as revved up about knocked-off work as the next guy/girl. However, in this instance you  can count me in the non-convinced camp. Sure, there are some basic visual similarities between the two, but if we’re being honest here (let’s) that logo looks like an upper case T from about 4 font sets I can think off, with the right arm cut off, flipped over and slid to the bottom. For the Belgian guy to claim the Japanese guy knocked off his work is to be very charitable, a stretch. For that to happen, Japanese guy had to have seen the logo somewhere, said to himself “hey, that’s a perfect design to show the Olympic committee” and hope to hell nobody noticed when he ripped it off. Weirdly, Sano remained mum as the accusations flew, but the Olympic committee assured everybody that they’d performed due diligence – a world-wide trademark hunt for conflicting designs. One small wrinkle there though – the theater logo isn’t trademarked (it probably doesn’t need to be,) so even if Sano did knock it off, a trademark search wouldn’t have found it anyway. But I digress..

Lawsuits get launched.

A few weeks back Debie and the theater (apparently now involved too) sent letters to the IOC and Japanese Olympic Committee, giving them eight days to stop using Sano’s design otherwise legal action would be taken. They were non-too-pleased and had this to say about the Belgium folks –

“We supplied (the designer’s side) with a detailed written explanation, but the plaintiff chose to file a suit instead of listening. Disseminating their own assertions repeatedly and then filing suit is unacceptable behavior for a public body”

The logo was already in use on tons of Olympic sponsors gear, the Olympic committee stood their ground, so last week the Theater guys formally filed a lawsuit in Belgium seeking to get the IOC to halt use of the logo. The Japanese guy held a press conference protesting his innocence and showing the assembled reporters the developmental process and genesis of the logo. He claimed he had never even heard of the Théâtre de Liège, let alone seen their logo.

“I put all of my knowledge and experience as an artistic director” into creating it, he said. “I was shocked and found it hard to accept, to be honest. But I’ve never been to Belgium, nor seen the logo even once.”

Well, that’s settled then..

I can’t even..

As the flip out continued, Twitter folks started to look into Kenjiro Sano’s work and stumbled on a whole bunch of art on tote bags his design firm had designed for Suntory Beer Ltd. as part of a promotional giveaway. Some of these looked remarkably similar to work that was scattered about the internet. Apparently, this is some of them (sorry, my Japanese is a little rusty)..
Accusations of plagiarism flew again. This time, Sano came clean, admitting that yes, he had ripped off some other designers’ work (using the time-honored “it was somebody that worked for me and I had no idea that they were wholesale nicking stuff of the internet” excuse.) Red-face beer guys Suntory had to announce they were yanking eight of the 30 bags it was giving away. Sano had to hold yet another press conference, copping to the copyright infringement on the tote bags, but maintaining his innocence on the Olympic logo. Again. To make matters worse, The Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens is now demanding a probe into their logo because people are shrieking that it – designed by Sano too – is a knockoff from the Costa Rico National Museum logo.
It isn’t. But will that even matter?

The Copycat Rubicon.

Here’s the thing kiddies. Once you’ve crossed the threshold into copying other people’s artwork, you’ve kinda blown your credibility all to hell with regards to, oh I dunno, outstanding claims of copyright leveled against you. Any logo that you’ve ever designed, that looks even remotely like something else, is suspect. As would be your protestations of innocence about it. I still don’t think the Japan 2020 Olympic logo is a knock-off, but “yeah, I copied a whole bunch of stuff, but not this stuff” ain’t going to play very well, especially in the court of public opinion. I was willing to throw my hat in this guy’s ring about two weeks ago. Not anymore pal.

Not anymore.