False start for Tokyo 2020 Logo
By Manuela Macchi
Partner, Keltie llp, London
Last month, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (‘TOC’) decided to withdraw the logo selected for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games the city is due to host.
The logo had been chosen amongst 104 logos submitted by designers and had been disclosed to the public on 24 July 2015.
A few days after the official announcement, Olivier Debie, a Belgian designer and owner of a design studio called Studio Debie, wrote to the TOC and the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’) claiming that the 2020 logo infringed his copyright in a logo he had designed for the Théâtre de Liège and which had been published in 2013.
Represented below are the two logos:
Allegedly, with the support of the Director of the Théâtre de Liège, Debie subsequently also issued copyright infringement proceedings against the IOC before the Belgian Courts.
It appears that the TOC had carried extensive worldwide clearance searches for prior conflicting trademark rights before committing to the selected logo. However, Debie’s logo was not the subject of a trademark or other form of registration (such as design registration).
As many readers will know, in most Countries, copyright comes into existence with the creation of the work and does not require registration. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to clear logos against third parties’ prior copyright.
Having no registered trade mark, nor registered design rights, and, based solely on copyright, for Debie’s claim to be successful, he would have had to prove that the TOC had copied his logo or, in practical terms, that the TOC’s designers of the 2020 selected logo had come into contact with, or had knowledge of, the logo he had designed for Théâtre de Liège, so that copying could be inferred.
Japan and Belgium are signatories of the main International Intellectual Property Conventions (Paris Convention, Berne Convention, Madrid Agreement) , including those regulating copyright and copyright enforcement.
Proving copying is generally a challenging task and it is difficult to say how the Belgian Courts would have decided the case.
The TOC consistently denied copying Debie’s logo and maintained that the 2020 logo was original: in other words, the result of independent creation.
Had Debie registered his logo as a trademark or as a design, for the case to be successful it would have been sufficient to prove similarity between the logos and likelihood of confusion amongst the public in the case of trademark infringement, or a similar overall impression, in the case of registered design infringement. These are easier tests than proving copying. So, one lesson to be learned from this case is that it is good practice to register your Intellectual Property.
Despite denying all claims of copyright infringement, on 1 September 2015, the TOC announced that the 2020 logo was going to be withdrawn and that a new logo would be announced, as soon as selected.
Some Japanese commentators have indicated that this dispute around the logo has not been well received by the Japanese public, and the TOC explained that the decision to withdraw the logo was not because they had accepted to have infringed Debie’s copyright, but because they felt that, in order to organise successful Games, it was necessary to have the support of the Japanese public.