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Tokyo 2020 Pulls Olympic Logo, Stung By Plagiarism Charges

An official of Tokyo's metropolitan government removes a poster bearing logos for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games from a wall Tuesday.
Kyodo /Landov
An official of Tokyo's metropolitan government removes a poster bearing logos for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games from a wall Tuesday.

In the latest high-profile change for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, organizers withdrew their games' official logo Tuesday, after weeks of heavy criticism. A graphic designer had filed a lawsuit over the resemblance to his own work.

Belgian designer Olivier Debie first complained about the logo soon after it was unveiled in July, saying the image presented by Japanese designer Kenjiro Sano was too similar to one he created for the Theatre de Liège in 2011. Debie had noted that his logo was widely shared on Pinterest.

Both images feature a central vertical bar, with two curved triangles diagonally offset. They also use a similar typeface. In Sano's version, a red circle is also present. Sano created a variation of the logo for the Paralympic Games.

"We won! This is what we wanted from the start," Debie said after Tuesday's announcement, according to Flanders News.

A new contest will be held to choose the 2020 Games' emblems.

As he announced the decision, the director general of Tokyo's Organizing Committee, Toshiro Muto, repeated Sano's insistence that his image was not the result of plagiarism. Instead, he said, Sano "is worried people may not accept his designs, and his work could hurt the image of the Olympics."

Criticism of Sano also grew after it was revealed that the designer had snared copyrighted photographs from the Internet to create renderings of how the Olympic logo would look in public spaces, such as Tokyo's Haneda airport. The organizers acknowledged that infraction Tuesday.

The Tokyo 2020 logo was officially scrubbed just days after organizers tried to rally support for Sano on Friday — but on that same day, the committee also released an earlier version of the logo that some viewed as borrowing heavily from yet another artist.

The Japan Times reports:

"Its design of a 'T' with a red circle at its foot resembled a poster at a Jan Tschichold exhibition held in November 2013 at Ginza Graphic Gallery in Tokyo. Sano had reported on Twitter that he visited the show."

For the second time this summer, Tokyo Olympics staffers set about scrubbing the Internet and social media of images that had promised to serve as a key emblem of the 2020 Games. Banner images on the Tokyo 2020 site were quickly swapped out; a page and video about the controversial emblem were made unavailable.

Organizers were forced to take similar steps in July, when the controversial design for a new National Stadium was scrapped after its cost ballooned to more than $2 billion.

This new development will also hit some of Tokyo 2020's biggest sponsors, who will now have to remove the forsaken logo from their promotional materials.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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