Copycat Olympics

Since its unveiling in July, the logo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and its designer Kenjiro Sano, has been mired in controversy amid accusations of plagiarism and a decidedly tepid reaction from the public.

Whilst Mr. Sano denies the claims, it appears that whoever put together the mockups highlighting how the emblem might be used in public settings around Tokyo also decided to take some liberties with other’s work – most notably mine!

Tokyo Olympics 2020 Copies

The graphic above was emailed to me by a “concerned citizen” who somehow managed to find out that the background photo used for the composite illustration of Shibuya came from a blog post I wrote a number of years ago.

Whilst it’s very cool to see one of my photos being used in this way it would have been nice if they’d at least asked.

Note: I provide all my photos on Flickr under a Creative Commons license, but they’re only for non-commercial use and must be attributed.

Update (1 Sept 2015):

It’s just been announced the emblem, designed by Kenjiro Sano, has been dropped amid plagiarism claims. Many media organisations have been asking for my comment so in order to save some time below are some FAQs:

1. Did anybody from Mr. Sano’s office “Mr_Design” ask for permission to use your photos?

2. If you could prove Mr. Sano’s plagiarism, would you file a lawsuit against him?

3. How do you feel about his behaviour towards design and copyright?
It seems that Mr. Sano’s staff were careless about asking for permission to use other people’s work which isn’t very professional, especially given the high-profile nature of the project.

4. What do you think about the decision that the organising committee made?
I think this situation has been blown out of proportion. I liked Mr. Sano’s design for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic emblem so I’m sad to hear that it’s been dropped.

David avatar

25 responses

  1. Japan citizen avatar
    Japan citizen

    Stay with the feeling that it is a shame as the Japanese
    Sorry to be a pain
    Sano is terrible criminal

    We are planning a demonstration in Tokyo.
    We will request to change his Olympic logo.

  2. tassy avatar

    This time, Sano that stole selfishly your design, I think really ashamed as a Japanese.And He has a responsibility to compensate the tightly sin, many Japanese believe.

  3. Oh my god…
    I’m so sorry to involve you in such a ridiculous thing.
    As a Japanese, I am very ashamed of his rude attitude.

  4. taro avatar

    I’m ashamed as one of Japanese.
    I thought a lot about us and I want you to hear my feelings,
    that 95% of Japanese feel bitter resentment with Sano,
    who is a robber and a self‐styled artist.
    All we feel for the pains of you.

  5. Hagakule avatar

    I’m very ashamed of this as a Japanese.
    I hope the logo will be changed soon.

    Eventhough, I feel no power for such a huge big global event.
    So many things were decided by pathetic thoughts and souls…

  6. angol.mois avatar

    Don’t SANO!

  7. Doro avatar

    Why is Japan government didnt do a thing?
    The IOC said it’s not plagiarism.
    However, all these proof and claims are more than enough to say that there’s something wrong with the logo (and its designer).
    The fact that Sano is connected with inside IOC people is such a terrible case of bribery here.
    It’s throwing muds all over Japan.

    Do something Japan!

  8. Sakura avatar

    I’m so sorry this happened, I really am. I can’t forgive what Sano did since I’m a Japanese too. I hope you don’t hate Japan 🙁

    1. Lucia Honeychurch avatar
      Lucia Honeychurch

      Do not worry; no one is blaming Japan. Japan is a beautiful country with many wonderful people and many beautiful places for which one should be proud. Love for Japan!

      1. Sakura avatar

        That’s very kind of you, thank you Lucia! We’ll try to be better citizens and form a better tomorrow 🙂

  9. Japanese National avatar
    Japanese National

    I’m Japanese. I very sad this happening.

    Please, don’t hate Japan. Japan include many kind people.

  10. anonnymas avatar

    As a Japanese, awfully ashamed of his, Sano’s disgraceful acts of “PLAGIARISM.”
    Sano, Please, Please Back Away from the Tokyo Olympics Logo ASAP!

  11. david gooodwin avatar
    david gooodwin

    Wow David this quite interesting to me, do you know what context the work this graphic designer presented the work in? Do you know who actually did the illustration, could be different people… From the little pics here it seems to me these are comps but I could be wrong…

    I ask because in my own career ” concept design ” we quite often comp things together from found sources. Depends on the time constraints etc…Generally you don’t ever just use something straight you make it your own to sell the idea and also that work is generally never for public consumption, its only used in-house to sell the design, in this case the graphics.

    I am assuming your photo’s of the buildings are just there for environment but again I don’t even now who this designer is much less his intent…

    Final ” Key ” art is produced for public and shouldn’t include others work unless it’s as a member of the team and or purchased through a service…

    It seems you are suffering from success here my friend, your photos are so nice 😛

    Really curious to see how this plays out.

    1. Avery avatar

      Just FYI for both Davids, the stolen photo was part of Sano’s official presentation and was offered as a use case. Just about 1 hour ago, Sano’s emblem was officially retracted by Japan’s Olympic committee and he was fired, not because of the unresolved trademark problems surrounding the emblem itself, but because he stole from this blog and 2 other photo blogs.

  12. Wolfgang Michel avatar
    Wolfgang Michel

    Japan is rich in art and design. This Sano’s disgraceful plagiat should be thrown into the garbage can. There are more than enough gifted designers who will provide marvelous emblems the Japanese people can be proud of.

  13. Yosuke Yamamoto avatar
    Yosuke Yamamoto

    My designer friends in Tokyo are all upset about his excuse and poor works, but I feel like this is a positive step forward to wipe out the copycats from Japan’s marketing and industrial design.

    Creators have to fight with his/her own skills and insights, with a lot of historical knowledges!

  14. Anonymous from Japan avatar
    Anonymous from Japan

    Hi, David
    Love your webpages logo!

    Nikkansports news web says Mr.Sano has admitted the plagiarism and had already contacted David.

    Many “victims” do not have any contacts from Mr.Sano though.
    Have you got any contacts from or Mr.Sano the picker?

  15. yoko avatar

    Most of the Japanese are very angry at Kenjiro Sano in this case. His emblem is sufficiently similar in the Belgian theater’s logo. He should admit to being wrong and make an apology immediately.

  16. You are so gentle that you won’t take Sano to the court. I respect your broad-mindedness so much. But I think your paternalism would spoil him and make him have no conscience to do the same things in future. In fact, there is no apology for this from him, aren’t there?

  17. japan express avatar
    japan express

    To participate in this olynpic competition requires the following awards.

    Tokyo ADC Award
    TDC Award
    JAGDA rookie award
    Yusaku Yusaku Award
    New York ADC Awards
    D & AD Award

    He won these awards without permission use.
    (please see picture in those links, easy to know even if you do not read japanese)

    This competition is originally fake, it is believed that this participation conditions are attached to distribute public funds to a specific group.

    And following competition proved that it can also won a easy copycat work.

    New York ADC Gold
    London D & AD Gold Award
    Yellow Pencil
    Cannes Lions Gold

    He bad that was stolen without permission.
    Olympic jury that chose it also bad.
    Jury of international awards also bad.

    The experts of the design, a professional make money in the design, it is not an professional to produce excitement in the design.(Position of art in fuckin capitalism)

    I do not think bad the business of such imitation.
    Design, music, video, also car world is full of counterfeit goods.

  18. Keiko avatar

    Although Japan embarassingly stumbled twice, the scrapped stadium design & logo, I would like to believe that Japanese citizen ourselves have respectable virtue and dignity. If not, we would have denied any international doubts on the originality of the logo, and just tried to carry on the progression of the Olympic project to pursue the success of their national project arrogantly. Luckily, we are not shameless nation. We chose to be called idiot rather than keep using the logo designed by Mr Sano who has been plagiarising habitually. We are looking forward to introduce a beautiful new logo!

  19. K. Kimura avatar
    K. Kimura

    I’m sure you must know by now that many Jpnse are greatly ashamed of the outcome concerning Mr.Sano’s emblem. But at the same time the majority of my people are raged at him and the judges who selected his emblem. I appreciate your kindness and understanding towards Mr.Sano using your photo without permission. However, the reason his emblem was cancelled for use was not because of that. It was because Mr.Sano and his designing company had been copy&pasting or tracing other designer’s works and photos taken by ordinary citizens for his other works without asking for permission as well. Although there is no proof he did the same for the Olys emblem, Jpnse do not want such a person to have the honor to design the Tokyo Olys emblem. He has not yet given any explanations on why he had made his past works in that manner, but merely gave a written statement that he has withdrawn his Olys emblem because he can no longer stand he and his family being bashed online, as if he is accusing those who found out what he had been doing, as well as those who have pointed out how personally close he had been with some of the judges who voted for his emblem design. He has apologized to those related to the Tokyo Olys committee etc., but has not apologized at all to the citizens of Jpn too. Therefore it is very difficult for us to feel sympathetic concerning his position in all this, and I believe you need not feel sorry for him at all either.

  20. Yusuke avatar

    First of all we apologize as a Japanese . Most people of Japanese have been disappointed that this time . Plz do not whether to hate Japan .

  21. Japanese avatar

    I am very ashamed as same Japanese.His apologize instead.

    This matter really.really sorry.


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