Editor-in-Chief Ron Driggers cautions authors to avoid using trademarked or copyrighted content in a journal publication.

© 2017 Optical Society of America

This month, I want to provide our authors with a cautionary note on using trademarked or copyrighted material in their manuscripts. While both copyright and trademark involve intellectual property protection, a copyright is protection for artistic or literary works like papers or even images. The trademark is protection for branding such as a product name or logo.

I have a personal story that is relevant to using trademarked images. A close colleague in graduate school wrote his Master’s thesis in an area that I knew well, spinning reticles. He had designed and built a reticle imager. The target he imaged was none other than the Playboy “bunny” logo. My friend submitted his paper to a well-known optics journal, which declined the paper unless he could provide a permission letter from Playboy for use of the logo. My friend was not easily discouraged, so he tracked down Playboy’s public relations representatives, sent them a copy of his technical paper, and requested permission to use the logo. We all thought he would have to rework his experiment but, surprisingly, within two weeks Playboy sent a letter granting permission. My friend was persistent and avoided further delay in publishing his paper, but not everyone is so lucky.

At Applied Optics, we have the same issues with protected material. You cannot use intellectual property such as logos, images, photos, or brands without permission from the copyright or trademark holder. There are some interesting cases involving papers that tried to use Disney’s “Mickey ears,” the Apple Computer logo, or other protected material, when these companies almost never allow their intellectual property to be used in published content. One Applied Optics story is about a submission that used an image of the well-known puzzle game Rubik’s Cube. The paper was held in production until permission could be obtained. Fortunately, Rubik’s Brand Ltd. granted the use of one photo in the paper and provided an approved credit line. Another author attempted to use a photo of the Apple iPhone but was denied permission and had to change the related figure in his paper. If you want to make an interesting experiment, then find something that is not protected. I have another colleague who can print replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge that are less than the width of a human hair in size. The Golden Gate Bridge is trademarked, but the owner is a government institution whose primary concern is to prevent misrepresentations of the mark. However, photos of the Golden Gate Bridge could be protected by copyright belonging to the photographer, so permission still might be necessary.

We understand why authors prefer to use recognizable objects and images in their experiments. There are no restrictions against conducting such experiments in your lab, but when a trademarked image or logo is used in a publication it could imply an endorsement or could portray the brand in a negative way. Companies are very protective of their brands and do not want them used in unauthorized ways. Some companies are notably more restrictive than others. Please allow 4–6 weeks to receive a response from the company when seeking permission.

In order to avoid complications with permissions, authors sometimes turn to “free” image websites to find interesting images for their research. Please note that nearly all of these websites are NOT authorized to grant permission for reuse in a publication. The legitimate image library websites provide copyright details for each image file and may charge permission fees.

Please make sure you are not publishing, or attempting to publish, copyrighted or trademarked material without permission. If you are unsure, please take the time to confirm ownership of the material. It might keep you from having to repeat an experiment or from going through a long, drawn-out process to obtain permission. Although this might be common sense for some of us, I suspect that this advice is particularly useful for some of our less experienced authors.

Ron Driggers
Editor-in-Chief, Applied Optics

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