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Plagiarism or unhappy coincidence?

4th August 2015 by Emily Malpass

Branding Graphic Design

Some of you may have seen a recent and high profile plagiarism row that has erupted over the similarities between the new Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo and Belgium’s Théâtre de Liège emblem - as you can see there does appear to be some striking similarities. This has got us thinking... was this a deliberate act of copying? or is it more likely this is purely accidental?

At a glance these logos do look very similar, but on closer inspection, there is mixture of different colours, elements and weights, so at what point does it even constitute plagiarism? Furthermore, would a designer in Tokyo be aware of a theatre in Belgium?. In this case also, one would have to ask whether specialist trademarking lawyers were consulted? With this being such a high profile brand identity, you would have thought this would have been an intergral part of the process. 

This does beg the question - should designers now do an image search before showing it to the client, just in case they have inadvertantly managed to create an image that already exists? So we did a 'reverse google search' - a search that works on the content of the image, rather than words. So did it work?

The answer... well no. There's lots of red in the search result so maybe the sun element was skewing things. So we tried taking this out...

Hmmm - that didn't seem to work either. It looks like Google is weighting the colour profile of the image higher than the shape of the elements, not suprising when you consider how good it is with pictures rather than logos.

So then we tried a clever bit of software developed by Tineye - sadly this didn't work either - see results.

We are all being bombarded by imagery of all sorts throughout our daily lives and it is inevitable that some will seep into our subconscious as well as our conscious minds. We all remember the big ones, we would steer clear from recreating the Coca Cola logo for example, but can a designer be forgiven for envisioning something they believed was original simply because weren’t aware of the other companies existence? And of course it will always be difficult to remain entirely original when creating anything with such simplistic shapes and clean lines. I suspect that it is most likely that the designer has unwittingly created a similar image - an unhappy coincidence.

And does it really matter? Two shops side by side on one high street would absolutely need to look different to one another, but is it so necessary for two completely different organisations, oceans apart from one another to stick to the same rules? I suspect that it will be this point that the lawyers will spend their time arguing about! 

On the flip side, people are already talking about the 2020 Olympic's - a full 5 years before the actual event - I suspect the Japanese organisers aren't too unhappy about this at all!

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