Perhaps there’s truth
to the adage that it is easier to seek forgiveness than it is to
seek permission. For meeting planners, however, that’s a good way
to invite a lawsuit. Planners always should seek permission first
before using another person’s ideas, images and even
Federal copyright laws protect
creativity and originality by stating that anything that is
original to the creator, if it exists in a form that can be copied,
is automatically copyrighted. No formalities are necessary.
However, submitting a copyright registration to the Library of
Congress does provide substantially more protection.
Not to be overlooked are state laws.
New York, for example, protects the privacy of individuals from
“exploitation for commercial purposes.” In New York, then, the use
of a person’s biographical information, picture or likeness in
promoting an event could be considered “commercial
Meeting professionals always should be
sure that relationships with speakers, authors, photographers and
anyone else who will make an oral or visual presentation are
governed by a contract. This includes those who might be providing
services at no charge.
That agreement should set forth the
right of the organization to use specific creative assets, images
and biographical information of the provider. In addition, it
should outline clearly how those materials will be presented and
preserved. For example, if a speaker does not want to be recorded
in any way, you must honor that.
By the same token, should you intend to
record meeting content for additional use, make sure the agreement
allows you to do so. You might think paying the speaker
automatically gives you that right. It doesn’t.
Photography is a creative endeavor, and
unless your contract authorizes you to use the photos, copyright
law says the images belong to the person clicking the shutter.
You’ll also need to obtain permission,
in a sense, from those who might be photographed. That’s not as
difficult as it sounds: The courts have recognized prominent
notices stating that the presence of people at a given location
constitutes an implicit right to use their image. For example, a
major amusement park informs those going through the turnstile that
pictures and videos will be taken throughout the park and can be
used for any purpose. Similarly, planners can note in pre-meeting
materials, agendas and program information that attendance
constitutes permission to use images of those at the event.
When engaging the services of a
professional, the “work for hire” doctrine might come into play.
That is, when you pay someone to do a specific task, it is
sometimes presumed that you are the “owner” for whatever limited
purpose you are paying the fee. It is better, however, to have it
clearly spelled out that you have an unfettered right to use the
materials, whether photographs, images, speeches or other
information produced, as your property.
Work in Progress
If, during the course of your meeting,
you are relying upon individuals to create something -- such as
developing standards of some sort, writing a paper or participating
in a group activity that might result in a tangible creative
asset -- make sure they, too, have agreed that all materials are
owned by the organization and may be used without further
In all cases, it’s better that planners
don’t need to seek forgiveness, because forgiveness can be very
Jonathan T. Howe,
Esq.,is a senior partner in the Chicago, St.
Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd.,
which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal
questions can be e-mailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.