Japan Pulls Olympics Logo Under Accusations of Design Plagiarism

By Core77 on September 2, 2015 in Design - Other
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When Japan released the design of their logo for the 2020 Olympics, it was widely derided as being unattractive. Now an even more serious allegation has been made: It’s not just ugly, it’s stolen.

That’s the assertion made by Olivier Debie, a Belgian graphic designer whose 2011 logo for a performing arts theater seems too close for comfort. Let’s look at them side-by-side:

Debie began lobbying the Japanese government shortly after the Olympics design was unveiled in July. He subsequently created the following gif, which was recirculated on social media and built a groundswell of support:

Debie’s protest appeared to fall on deaf ears within Japan throughout August, with the Tokyo organizers insisting the design was original. Debie subsequently threatened legal action, and yesterday the Japanese government finally capitulated, canceling the design.

So what happened here? The man responsible for the Olympics logo, designer Kenjiro Sano, claimed that the work was wholly original and that he had never seen Debie’s design. Opponents pointed out that this was the second time Sano has been in the news amidst accusations of design plagiarism, following an earlier campaign for beverage manufacturer Suntory:

Kenjiro 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.

Reading between the lines, Sano supporters would say it’s possible junior staff were responsible for the plagiarism; opponents would say that’s no excuse. Supporters of both Debie and Sano held Twitter skirmishes, but following yesterday’s announcement Yoichi Masuzoe, the Governor of Tokyo, made his position clear: “I want Mr. Sano to provide an explanation,” said Masuzoe. “I feel like we have been betrayed.” (For those unfamiliar with the nuances of Japanese diction, these statements represent fury.)

Apparently there is still some confusion about what will happen next. Belgian newspaper Deredactie indicates Debie will drop the lawsuit, but a headline in Japan’s Kyodo News reads “Belgian designer not to drop suit despite Olympics logo withdrawal.”

One thing is for certain: As Tokyo’s Olympic organizers cast about for a replacement logo, the submitted designs will surely get a harder look.