• Kyodo

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The recent plagiarism allegations surrounding the 2020 Tokyo Olympics logo have put local governments on alert as they screen a huge number of logo candidates amid an increasing number of design competitions.

The case of the logo designer, Kenjiro Sano, around which allegations of plagiarism are circulating, showed that today’s technology allowed Internet users to digitally scrutinize designs.

But the controversy has also left organizers of similar contests puzzled over how to avoid copyright infringement scandals.

According to a Tokyo-based publisher of a magazine that provides information on local contests, including those for logo designs, Japan has seen growing demand for logos and emblems amid the recent yuru-kyara mascot boom.

The city of Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of being granted city status next year, organized a contest for a logo that would be used throughout the year ahead of the celebration.

The city plans to select the winning designs by Friday, and to unveil the logo in November.

But in the wake of the recent plagiarism scandal, the municipal government decided to vet the designs using the Japan Patent Office’s database and search tools available on the Internet.

“We hadn’t thought about the issue of copyright that seriously. We’ll take all possible measures to check (whether or not candidate designs infringe copyright),” said Koichi Takano, who is responsible for the city’s project planning.

The scandal has also prompted the Fukuoka city government to consider using the Internet to detect plagiarism, as well as to check registered trademarks.

But some experts claim such techniques might be insufficient to uncover infringement cases, given that many designers have yet to submit a trademark registration application.

“We can trace designs registered in the trademark database, but we might have problems with verifying those that are not registered,” said an official from the Hiroshima city government. The city has invited the public to create a logo to be used on patches given to qualified workers in nursing care support services.

“We need to be aware that even if a design does not infringe copyright under the law, it may be criticized as a plagiarism by Internet users,” said Hisao Hayase, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property.

“Although the means enabling the detection of plagiarism might be limited, we need to introduce a system that would enable us to respond to plagiarism claims and seek early help from copyright experts in such cases.”

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