Monday, January 24, 2011


In 2009, when Bouchercon was being held in Indianapolis, a gang of us went out to dinner.

The inimitable Peter Rozovsky ( )
was walking next to me when we entered the restaurant.

This was the mural facing us on the wall:

“Ha!” said I. “Picasso. Les Demoiselles de Avignon.”
“Ha!” said Peter. “Matisse. La Danse.”
Peter, of course, was right.
He usually is.
Les Demoiselles de Avignon is this one:

I knew that.
I really did.
I just…misspoke.
That’s my story anyway.
And I’m sticking to it.

What’s this got to do with plagiarism?
Bear with me.
I’m getting there.

Flash forward to the first hours of New Year’s Day, 2011.
During the celebration on Copacabana Beach the symbol for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was unveiled:

If you haven’t got time to watch the video (2 minutes and 57 seconds), cut right to the chase and look at this:

And, now, compare it with this:

It’s the logo for the Telluride Foundation,   a Colorado-based organization that exists to promote philanthropy.

See any similarity?
Lots of folks do.

They allege that the Telluride logo was directly lifted from the Matisse.

And take away the legs and the red dancer from the Telluride logo,  and you’ve got the Olympic logo.

Fred Gelli, of Tátil Design, the Brazilian agency that created the logo, says no.
He acknowledges that there are similarities between the two, but is unwilling to go any farther than that.

His detractors say the similarity is just too great, that even the color dispersion is nearly identical.

I asked Peter Ratcliffe, a designer who’s been doing some book covers for me, what he thought.
He said yes to inspiration, no to plagiarism.

And thought it was a cool idea that the Brazilians have come up with the first 3-dimensional Olympic Symbol:

What do the rest of you folks think?

Leighton - Monday


  1. In my experience as a lawyer, the very first thing a textile manufacturer would do when confronted with a claim by a competitor of infringing (called "knocking off" in the trade) the competitor's pattern design was to find examples of designs similar to the competitor's in the public domain. Those examples would then become the "source" of the alleged wrongdoer's inspiration and it would be up the judge to decide who to believe.

    Basically, it came down to "I'll know a knock off when I see it." As for my opinion on the subject at issue, I'm happy to say I'm no longer in that line of work.

  2. That's a fascinating issue, Leighton. It just came to my mind a short film by Orson Welles called FAKE, very interesting in my opinion. It is also a matter of boundaries. In this sense even our recent Literature Nobel Prize winner, Vargas Llosa was charged for plagiarism. His book 'The War of the End of the World' owes much to Euclides da Cunha's 'Os Sertöes'.

  3. It's a fine line Leighton. Generally, I go along with the inspiration line, unless the work flagrantly and unapologetically copies the work that inspires it. However, there are some out there who are masters of ripping off others work, yet their work is so well disguised they get away with it.

  4. First, everyone should make the time to watch the video. Showing the events taking place in public spaces was very creative. It suggests that events, other than the marathon, are open to anyone who just happens to be in the vicinity, that the Olympics aren't the elitist venues as suggested by the shots of world leaders cheering on the athletes of their countries.

    It is also a brilliant marketing tool for Rio.

    The logo is striking especially in three dimensions; it certainly suggests movement and movement is what the Olympics is all about. No one get a medal for sitting or standing unless it is on a sled going down a narrow tube at over 100 miles and hour.

    "Similarities" between the Telluride symbol and the Rio symbol is not the right word. "Exact copy" would be going a little too far but it would be very hard not to see how one influenced the other.

    On the other hand, it looks like the designers of the Telluride symbol lifted it from the Matisse.

  5. Leighton--

    It's what people with guitars refer to as "the folk process." Every one of us learns by reproducing and personalizing something that's come before.

    There's maybe one artist in a million who does something truly revolutionary. And even he or she is standing on the shoulders of a million others, living and dead. I suspect the guys who painted the Lascaux caves had been taught by their grandaddies. Even if Grandad was probably 27 years old.

    As others have noted in these comments, it all comes down to how close a reproduction is; merely a copy, or a variation?

    When my screenwriting career faded back in the late 1990s, I wrote a couple of TV spec scripts in an attempt to get some gigs. Never got hired--but the following year some exact bits, a whole plot line and exact dialog from my specs showed up on two TV series. I didn't regard that as the folk process. The word "theft" came to mind. My agent referred to it as "business as usual."

    Eye of the beholder, no?


  6. At first glance, I'd say the Telluride was clearly lifted from Matisse, the Rio logo less clearly so from Telluride.

    One factor to consider is that logos tend toward primary colors and simple forms, which would seem to increase the chances of something turning out similar to a previous design; there are only so many primary colors and simple forms.
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