Professor Edwin L. Thomas, director of MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, wrote comic book artist Raymond Lai on Aug. 30 to apologize publicly for Thomas's unknowing use of a Lai image in a research proposal about the soldier of the future. The text of the e-mailed letter follows:
Dear Mr. Lai,
I'm glad we talked last night, and I was able to apologize personally to you for using an image that I did not realize was based on a character created by you and your brother Ben. I am writing to apologize publicly to you both.
As I said to you, if I had known it was your work, I would not have used it. MIT strongly supports the rights of creators and greatly regrets using the image without permission or credit. I am very sorry that this occurred; it won't happen again.
Here is what happened. As my team and I were putting the finishing touches on the proposal, we decided to include a drawing of what the soldier of the future might look like. It was a last-minute decision, and I asked my daughter, a graphic artist, to provide an image. We put the image into our proposal to the Army in late February. In March, the Army made its announcement and MIT included the image in its news release.
I didn't know until after your attorney contacted MIT at the end of April that the image apparently was based on your character. As soon as we heard about that, I had it removed from the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology web pages, notified all of those involved not to use the image for any purpose, and MIT also ordered the image removed from all MIT web sites.
I also wanted to tell you a little about the research project. We seek over the next five years to create lightweight, molecular materials to equip the soldiers of the future with uniforms and gear that can protect them in the field from ballistic, chemical and biological threats. The Army is seeking to drastically reduce the 110 to 140 pounds of gear that today's soldiers carry. This will be achieved by doing research to create novel composite materials and devices composed of nanoscopic structures - the stuff of nanotechnology - where the typical dimension is about 1/50,000 the thickness of a human hair. The Army grant will help MIT fund students, post-docs and staff as well as provide scientific equipment to develop these future materials.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 11, 2002.