by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | August 01, 2015
While most meeting professionals are well versed in the rules surrounding the use of  copyrighted music at events, few pay strict attention to the requirements of the copyright laws that cover "image makers," aka photographers. Under the Copyright Act, the "creator" of the image is considered to be the author and owner of all the rights afforded by the Act, not the organization who hires the photographer.

Photographers and their representatives are now seeking licensing fees for images that have been posted or otherwise used without their permission. This could include images taken at your events that you have included for years in your materials. It bears noting: Just because a photo is on the Internet does not make it available to cut and paste into your publication or onto a website.

In the past, it was difficult to uncover unlicensed uses of copyrighted materials, but new technology is making it easier for an individual to search for his or her protected photographs and images. For instance, TinEye offers such image searches for a fee. The photographer uploads an image to the service, allowing TinEye to scour the Internet to find every use of that photo online, identifying the websites that have used it. This leads to a demand letter being sent to the alleged infringer asking for payment of a licensing fee.

For promotional purposes, many planners use images from the prior year's event. These appear not only in printed materials but also online on registration or promotional websites. Some also grab photographs from around the web and republish them on the event's website. These actions create possible legal problems. You must get permission from the photographers, pay their fees, and give them credit in printed and online brochures.

When you are using a paid professional -- or, for that matter, even an amateur -- to take pictures for your later use, have them grant your organization a license for unlimited use of those images. If working with a professional, you will have to pay a license fee. These days, even an amateur might not let you off the hook.

The license should be documented in a written agreement between you and the photographer, and signed at the time you engage the photographer or videographer, not after the pictures are taken or the tape made. This is a limited exception to the usual "work for hire" rules. Always enter into a licensing agreement that gives you all rights to use the images.

When taking photos off the web, find out whether their usage is free or whether there is an owner who might take exception to your use without paying for a license.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. Email questions to him at [email protected]