From Similarity to Sameness

From Similarity to Sameness

When it comes to art and design, the line between infringement and inspiration can become… murky, to say the least. How different does something have to be before it can be considered “original”? Can a designer claim that their work is just unintentionally similar? And if so, is it incumbent upon the creator to show the path of their creation or is it the offended party/accuser’s burden to prove that the design was swiped?

To get a perfect example of the complexities involved in these concepts, take a trip to Tokyo. Future Tokyo. 2020, to be specific. Let’s throw some entertainment into your plans. Say… the Olympics.

Kenjiro Sano, the designer hired to create the logo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has been accused of plagiarizing. What did these supposed swipers swipe? The logo of a Belgian theatrical group named Théâtre de Liège. While Sano stands by the originality of his design, saying he had never seen the theatrical groups logo, the similarity of the two designs has a lot of people raising their eyebrows.


The likeness is undeniable, but is it plagiarism? Is it a crime of intention or only of end results? (That is: does it only matter if the two works look similar, or that there was some malicious intent/lack of originality at play.) And what is originality, particularly in the face of such a omnivorous, global mediascape?Artists feed off of each other, drawing inspiration and generating new ideas off the old.  So how do we decide where the line is drawn?

As much as we love the debate, at this point the facts of this particular situation no longer matter: The 2020 Olympics logo has been pulled and the committee is holding a competition to find a new one. While Sano maintains his position that the logo is wholly original, he believes that the public perception of the logo is now far too negative. As a representative of the brand, the damage had been done to that logo. Bye bye, logo.

Assuming that Sano is telling the truth—that he really has never seen the Belgian logo before—does that make the similarities okay? What are the chances that a designer in Japan has seen the logo for a theater in Belgium? Twenty years ago, we would say next to zero. Now? The world is a google search away. But should it matter if he saw it? The designer who created the Théâtre de Liège logo, Olivier Debie, would probably say no.

We say a resounding: maybe?