There is a controversy in Japan that may rekindle questions about the increasing claims of trademarks and copyrighted material. Belgian designer Olivier Debie has accused Japanese designer Kenjiro Sano of stealing the basic design of his emblem for a Belgian theater as the official logo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There is no question that the letter has similar geometric elements, but it is also true that Sano’s design is indicative of the minimalist tradition of Japanese art. To claim all future minimalist representations of an “T” raises the same concerns as common words or images being declared private property. By the way, I like the Sano design and I think it captures the character of the host nation and its artistic traditions.
Sano denies that he plagiarized and insists that he never saw the emblem for the Theatre de Liege before creating his logo. He notes that he used a widely available font for the letter “T” for Tokyo, team and tomorrow. He inserted the red circle as a reference to the logo was inspired by designer Yusaku Kamekura’s emblem for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The Olympic committee vetted the logo for any trademark issues and noted that the Theatre de Liege never registered its symbol as a trademark. However, Debie insisted that he still has legal recourse under copyright laws.
We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). This included a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π.
The claim of protection over common, minimalist font letters strikes me as another example of the privatization of common symbols and terms that will further chill and limit creativity — the very opposite of what these laws were designed to achieve.
What do you think?