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Published: 22.02.2007, 06:00
Modified: 21.02.2007, 19:46
Windows logo on ETH Fašade
Shadowy sides of a light projection

(sch) The projection of Windows logos onto the fašade of the ETH Zurich main building on 30 January created a heated debate both inside and outside the university. The case involved a precedent that raises the question to what extent this kind of campaign was at all legitimate. According to Radan Hain, Manager of ETH Zurich Legal Services, ETH Zurich does not have any internal regulation that prohibits use of its building fašades for advertising purposes. However, using the analogy of regional planning regulations, the university’s Legal Services department is of the opinion that advertising which could harm the reputation of ETH Zurich or interfere with its running must be avoided. According to Hain, the Windows light projection did not rise to this level.

Verena Schmid Bagdasarjanz, Head of the Corporate Communications of ETH, sees it slightly differently. In principle joint appearances are to be welcomed where there is close collaboration between ETH Zurich and industry, and the connection between the two organisations is clearly visible and understandable. According to Schmid Bagdasarjanz, however, this precondition was not fulfilled in the case of the Microsoft logo. Another reservation was that the main building fašade probably represents the most prominent of all the “advertising surfaces” of ETH Zurich.

From the criminal legal point of view, the campaign by the light artist Gerry Hofstetter breached a clause of approval for the projection that had been issued by the Zurich municipal police. This approval stipulated that it was not permissible for “any logos to be used or commercial content projected”. Hofstetter was fined a few hundred Swiss francs. The Microsoft Corporation, which had also financed the projection, said afterwards that it was willing to accept the fine.

Without the knowledge of the Executive Board and Corporate Communications

The light projection took place in the context of a scientific lecture with representatives of the software manufacturer Microsoft at the Department of Computer Science of ETH Zurich. That same day, the new Windows Vista operating system was also launched globally. Jürg Gutknecht, department head and joint organiser of the event, stresses that neither the lecture nor the subsequent projection were intended as a Microsoft advertising campaign.


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On the contrary, the light projection was an artistic interpretation of the joint event. According to Gutknecht, its formalities had been agreed directly between the light artist and Microsoft. The Executive Board and Corporate Communications knew nothing of this.

Fruitful collaboration with Microsoft

Gutknecht still defends the campaign, saying that ultimately he was trying hard to achieve good relations with Microsoft in the interests of the Department. He finds it difficult to understand the fuss about the projection, even if critics felt that the campaign amounted to advertising. He says that as long as such a campaign is clearly linked to scientific collaboration between ETH Zurich and private industry and ETH Zurich benefits from it, he cannot see any fundamental problem with ETH Zurich offering advertising opportunities to the industry in return.

Members of the Department of Computer Science have maintained good connections with Microsoft for many years, leading among other things to collaboration with Microsoft Research in several research projects. Moreover, according to Gutknecht the Microsoft Developer Center Zurich founded in May 2006 offers ETH Zurich Computer Science new opportunities. For example, practical courses are filled with ETH Zurich students and Microsoft stands as their possible future employer. It is clear to the department head that cooperation of this kind must involve a balance between giving and receiving. The “fašade projection” chapter for him remains definitely closed.




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