Romania's logo design controversy

August 16, 2010

Until last week, when anyone thought about the issues of copyright, theft and intellectual property that have plagued the design industry for decades, I am sure that Romania would have been one of the last names to pop into anyone’s mind. Unfortunately, this may have all changed now as Romania, a country known for its beautiful countryside and its Carpathian mountains, has been trust into the international design spotlight and has now found itself caught in the middle of a very interesting logo design controversy.

The issue all began at this years Expo 2010 Shanghai China where Romania’s Ministry of Tourism revealed their new logo design. Initially met with much enthusiasm, it was soon uncovered that part of their new logo design may have been copied from the popular stock photo website, iStockphoto. Why is this such a shock? Aren’t a lot of designs purchased from stock photo websites just like this every day? Yes, however this situation is quite different in that the Ministry of Tourism of Romania had hired THR, an international tourism consulting company and TNS, a global market research company to create a unique brand identity for Romania that was free of any copyright infringement. Romania had agreed to a 900,000 EUR contract with THR-TNS for the creation of their unique new brand identity as well as for other materials and research involved in the creation of their new identity. Now, however seeing as the authenticity of their new logo design has been called into question, Romania is refusing to pay THR-TNS a cent until the issue is resolved.

Here is Romania’s new logo design created by THR-TNS:

Romania's logo design
Here is the leaf design taken from iStockPhoto that bares a striking resemblance to Romania’s new logo design:

Leaf illustration found on iStockPhoto.com

Belgian designer Tom Nulens claims that he was the one that created the original leaf image that is available for purchase on iStockPhoto.com. THR-TNS insists that the similarities between these two designs are merely a coincidence. They have even offered to produce their initial sketches that document the evolution of their design. So....

Who do you believe?

Personally, I think that this is horrible. The leaves are almost exact replicas of one another and it seems to me that one must have been copied from the other. Shocking! Yes, there is a small chance that this truly is a coincidence however, these designs are just far too similar for me to believe that it is simply coincidental. If it was truly a coincidence, I think that there would be many marked differences in the two leaf designs. I just can't help but question the authenticity of the THR-TNS logo design seeing as it appeared after Tom Nulens' design.

Theft and copyrights are a huge issue in design. Of course, everyone uses references in their work. Even the most professional designers draw on other people's work as a source of inspiration from time to time. This however, is much different that blatantly copying someone else's work. I find this whole incident particularly embarrassing for THR-TNS and it will negatively affect their reputation regardless of the outcome. THR-TNS had promised Romania an original design and it just doesn’t seem like they honestly delivered what they promised. In doing so, they have undermined the entire design industry and devalued the whole process of creation.




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