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Is it ethical/lawful to recolor/scale the logos when importing them to presentation slides to make the logos meet the template standards and fit the theme colors?

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You should probably ask the submitter to fix them if it is very important. –  Bill Barth Aug 14 at 13:26
What do you mean by "resize"? Resize with respect to what? Resizing the logo to occupy more pixels? More centimetres? Relative to the default text size? Are you even in control of the resulting size of the logo if you place the logo on slides that get projected somehwere? I mean ... depending on the distance of the projector to the projection surface, your slides can come out at any size. –  O. R. Mapper Aug 14 at 16:01
@EnthusiasticStudent: I repeat my question: How big is a slide? To me, it seems that if I display a slide at a resolution of 1024x768, the slide is 1024x768 pixels in size, if I display the same slide at a resolution of 800x600, then the slide is 800x600 pixels in size. With that in mind, the claim that the logo is "bigger than the slide" doesn't seem to make any sense. –  O. R. Mapper Aug 14 at 20:01
I see @O.R.Mapper has given up the effort to explain why "resize" is unclear, so I'll make one (and only one) attempt. When an entity, like the original logo, has no particular size (e.g., my university's logo appears on business cards, on billboards, and on lots of other things at various sizes), and when your use of that entity also has no particular size (projected on different screens, viewed on a video monitor, etc.), then "resize" doesn't mean anything. –  Andreas Blass Aug 15 at 2:03
I am confused on why this question got a lot of upvotes. Try as I might, I can't see how this is on-topic for Academia.SE. –  Stephan Kolassa Aug 16 at 19:49

5 Answers 5

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Logos are often trademarked, and therefore you are not free to recolor them according to whatever color scheme your template happens to use.

However, many companies and universities do have multiple versions of their logo available, for precisely this reason. You should contact your university's (or organization's) press office (or similar office) to see what is available, before toying with it yourself.

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If I am not mistaken, trademarking has nothing to do with this, as trademark laws are about who is allowed to use the logo (or something similar) at all. Legal problems may rather arise from the fact that somebody created that logo and a priori reusing it or creating a new work (recoloured logo) based upon it may be a copyright breach (depending on several factors such as country and what you use the logo for). Now, you are most probably authorised via your university or similar to reuse that logo, but there is no guarantee that you may also alter it. –  Wrzlprmft Aug 14 at 13:43
@EnthusiasticStudent resizing should not be a problem as long as the proportions are kept at constant. Note that there might be limitations on how small the logo can be resized, due to readability etc. Similarly you cannot crop a logo however you like, if you intend to put it at the edge of a slide for instance. As aeismail mentioned, a proper graphical profile should include variations in color, size and cropping. –  posdef Aug 14 at 14:00
Here's an example from The Ohio State University. –  mkennedy Aug 14 at 16:40
@Wrzlprmft I believe trademark law does apply (at least, UK). Reason being that you are marking your trade (slides) with a logo deceptively similar to another company's. Of course, the intention is not to deceive, but the law exists to protect the company and I believe they're well within their right to object to the recolouring. But I'm not a lawyer. :) –  Ollie Ford Aug 15 at 22:12
@Wrzlprmft: I don't see any substantive disagreement between you and Ollie / aeismail, you just seem to be talking past each other. Yes, a typical logo will be protected by both copyright and trademark law, which both prevent you from using it, in any form, on a slide without permission from the copyright and trademark holder(s) (unless, of course, you can claim fair use or some similar right). Typically, such permission will come with conditions (often included e.g. by reference to a visual identity policy) that will forbid or at least severely restrict you from modifying the logo. –  Ilmari Karonen Aug 17 at 14:41

Most companies/institutions guard their branding very carefully. Many companies spend thousands or even millions on developing a brand language, which includes fonts, colors, and other design elements.

I don't know the specifics of the legal ramifications of changing logo colors, but the owners of the logo are sure to be against it.

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I am not sure whether there is any legal distinction (and input by someone who does is welcome), but at least logically, the statement "the owners of the logo are sure to be against it" only seems to make sense for logos that are coupled to a specific colour, as opposed to logos that just define a shape and are essentially "monochrome". –  O. R. Mapper Aug 14 at 16:03
You bring up a good point, but occasionally monochrome is actually part of a company's branding. –  Thomas Aug 14 at 16:29
@O.R.Mapper You call it 'monochrome', they call it 'specific colours: black, white' ;) –  Ollie Ford Aug 15 at 22:13
@OllieFord: I was not talking specifically about black and white, but about logos that are explicitly defined only as shapes, which are routinely integrated into different colour schemes. I am sure I have seen some examples in the past, though being generally bad with remembering brand names and similar, I cannot remember any of them now. Of course, some logos explicitly have only one (foreground) colour that still needs to be adhered to, no matter what. –  O. R. Mapper Aug 16 at 7:26
@O.R.Mapper: Thanks for the clarification. I thought you meant that it is acceptable to color a logo in gray scale, which is not necessarily the case. Typically, if it is acceptable to color a logo, the company will explicitly say so. –  Thomas Aug 18 at 16:37

The following is based on general copyright concepts and should apply to any reasonable copyright laws:

Any logo is created by somebody, be it a professional graphic-design company or the dean’s nephew, and without further ado this person (or company) holds the copyright to that logo. This mostly means that you cannot do certain things with it (or an altered form of it), which usually include dissemination or using it for commercial purposes. Whether using the logo in a presentation shown to a small audience is included in this depends on your country’s copyright and other aspects. Using it in a publication would almost certainly be a breach of copyright, however. Anyway, let’s assume it would not be legal to use the logo for whatever you do.

As it would be pretty pointless, if, e.g., members of a university were not allowed to use its logo (when representing that university), the creator will usually have authorised the university and its members to use the logo – but this authorisation can be bound to conditions. Furthermore the university itself may impose conditions onto its members regarding the usage of the logo. These conditions may include:

  • You must not alter the logo (e.g., by recolouring it or changing its aspect ratio). I expect this to be a common condition.
  • The logo must make up a certain percentage of your slides, pages or posters. This is a rather silly condition in my opinion, but I would be surprised, if there were no precedent for this.
  • The logo must not be resized. If sufficiently stupid people make the rules, this might happen, however it hardly makes any sense: The logo may not have any physical size to begin with (as many image formats do not contain this information) and how the logo is initially sized when imported in your software depends only on whatever the software’s creator chose to be the default. And even if it has physical dimensions, it does not make any sense to use the same size in print and on projected slides. Something similar holds for sizes in pixels.
  • The word penguin must be on any page or slide on which the logo appears. I am exaggerating here, but the only way to be sure that there are no silly conditions is to check.

Now, if you are lucky, there exists some document which states that members of the university or similar are authorised to use the logo and which contains conditions (if any exist) and requirements of logo usage. Here is an example thanks to Mkennedy.

On the other side of the spectrum, you may have some institute’s logo, which was handrawn by the director’s niece 30 years ago and gone through several iterations of scanning and printing, because the original has been lost. You have no official authorisation to use the logo at all and the legal grey zone you are entering does not change much if you additionally alter the logo (in any remotely respectful manner). It is very likely that nobody will care, let alone sue you.

Where on this spectrum you are is something only you can decide.

Anyway, I would recommend to use such a logo only on one or two slides, so it should not dramatically destroy your colour concept.

Additionally, you might consider adapting your presentation’s colour scheme to the logo’s colour scheme, but beware that the latter is not necessarily a good choice for projectors.

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I am converting my comment to aeismail's answer as the OP suggested:

Logotypes are typically covered by what's known as the graphical profile of organisations like companies, universities and indeed even political parties or NGOs.

A graphical profile usually contains things like (but not limited to) color(s), aspect ratio, font(s) and positioning of eventual text elements regarding a logotype in question. Depending on how "complete" or "strict" a graphical profile is, you can do varying degrees of manipulations.

It's typically not an issue to scale the image, given that the aspect ratio, or the width-height proportions are kept as the original. If the organisation in question has put some thought into their graphical profile, they should have the logotype in a vector-based format, which scales up/down without any quality loss.

Keep in mind that scaling up an image is usually not a good idea, if the image is bitmap and not vectorised. It's also good to remember that there might be issues regarding readability, i.e. there might be a limit on how much you can scale down the logotype. Logotypes that have text within the graphics tend to have such limitations. [Keen observer might notice how badly the text renders if one does not pay attention when converting vector graphics to raster graphics]

Finally, even if you are allowed to crop a logo (due use as decoration on the edge of a slide or poster) exactly how you can crop the logo might be defined as well. For instance the logo I linked above has 4 predefined cropped versions, that you are allowed to use. Beyond those you are not allowed to crop/scale/change the logotype in any way.

Just exactly how that might be enforced is a whole different story however.

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Good answer! Sometimes a different term is used to refer to a "graphical profile". These may include the terms "style guide", "branding guide", or "design language." –  Thomas Aug 18 at 16:40

To clarify the resizing issue discussed in the comments: for any length-based system of preparing a document, the concept of "size" is indeed a valid one.

If the people who provide official University logos have done their job properly, the logo will be available in postscript and/or PDF formats that have a defined size in centimetres. These original dimensions are probably intended for reproduction on A4 paper and in that case should not be changed (in the interest of consistency).

For instance, the .eps logo of my University is defined as being 1.77 cm high. On official, printed A4 letters it is the exact same 1.77 cm in height. In most cases it would be inappropriate to rescale this logo when creating an A4 document. Consistency is good.

As a side note, the concept of measuring Powerpoint slides in pixels is wrong: it's a vectorized document. There are no pixels. I don't have a copy of Microsoft Powerpoint, but Apple Keynote's default slide size is 1024x768 points (not pixels!). 1 pt = 1/72 inch. I suspect Microsoft's system is the same.

A logical method of scaling to different media would be to scale based on the font size of your main body of text. Most A4 documents have 10pt font. So, if you're producing a poster or presentation with a main font size of 24pt, just make the logo 2.4 times wider and taller. This will keep the logo's size in proportion to the rest of the text.

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+1 for "[...] the logo will be available in postscript and/or PDF formats that have a defined size in centimetres." –  Enthusiastic Student Aug 15 at 20:13
Why the downvote? –  Moriarty Aug 16 at 7:36

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