03March

A hard lesson:
Japan 2020’s logo

Posted by - Whitestone International

The lesson is that on the big and global stage, neither the brand owner nor designer can afford to skip proper due diligence and process – it’s not just a logo, it’s far far more than that. And for designers in general, everything you do must be original – and hand sketching then scanning in are crucial if ever there’s a case taken out against you or your company. Originality in legal terms does not mean original thought, it means originally created. Yes of course that applies to computer generated designs too, but…”

What to do?

It was going to happen one day – A big event identity is too close to another and is scrapped.

Kenjiro Sano has been accused of plagiarising the Belgian designer Olivier Debie’s Théâtre de Liège logo and subsequently the Tokyo LOC has scrapped it. Whether he did or didn’t – noting that he denies having never seen it before the similarity came to light – it raises a huge question for designers and clients.

How do designers and clients avoid these sorts of ruinous and potentially very costly situations?

The fact is that few if any clients or designers thoroughly check whether a design they are proposing, or have launched, is close to another. There are a few ways, including deep trade mark and internet searches, but the costs are seen as prohibitive in time and money. And anyway, it’s “only a logo” after all – right?

Japan 2020’s logo would not have been bought on the cheap, so they should have factored deep searches into the work before they launched it. Did they check it? Did they come across the Théâtre de Liège logo? Even if they did, it wasn’t a registered trade mark – so what’s the problem? Or did they know about it, did they decide that scale and business sector made it no contention?

99/100 large organisations will not change their branding once it’s launched; by example 2012 didn’t, despite the public criticism and in the end it was alright on the day – wasn’t it? Scrapping large scale public interest work carries huge political and financial risks. You could argue changing the branding shows strength and integrity. But read the press and they’re pulling out all sorts of no-smoke-without-fire innuendos, not overtly suggesting but leaving the reader to wonder whether there is good reason for suspicion and doubt.

What drove the outrage was a moral question that has been fuelled by the connectivity, speed and power of social media. Similarity, even inadvertently, breaks numerous business and ethical rules. Yet is it reasonable to assume that plagiarism was in play? Is it feasible or possible for a designer to know every design that has been created? Really? Can you categorically say you have total recall and remember everything you have ever seen?

Take for example the Bass logo is trade mark No. 1 dating back to 1875 and reputedly in use since the 1600’s – now search ‘triangle logo’ and see the sheer number of designs based on a triangle. In this case, given a circle and a T, both legitimate icons given ‘T’okyo and the Japanese flag and Roman typefaces, is it not plausible that there could be a similarity to another logo, with such basic ingredients?

Another key factor is that there is no design copyright register to check against un-trademarked designs.

The real answer is this situation cannot be completely avoided.

It’s very unfortunate for the designer, LOC and nation that this has occurred. But assuming it was a genuine error (com’on, innocent until proven and all that) what they got wrong on the face of it was not checking deeply enough.

The lesson is that on the big and global stage, neither the brand owner nor designer can afford to skip proper due diligence and process – it’s not just a logo, it’s far far more than that. And for designers in general, everything you do must be original – and hand sketching then scanning in are crucial if ever there’s a case taken out against you or your company. Originality in legal terms does not mean original thought, it means originally created. Yes of course that applies to computer generated designs too, but…