by Jonathan T. Howe, esq. | July 01, 2004

According to Dr. Bergen Evans, in his Dictionary of Quotations (Random House), Jazz Age novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letterhead read “Hack Writer and Plagiarist, St. Paul, Minnesota.” At least Scotty was up-front about the practice. Many times, meeting professionals deal with speakers and contributors who provide materials that aren’t their own, without disclosing their sources.
     The question arises: What is the difference between research and plagiarism? As screenwriter Wilson Mizner once noted, “Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from two, it’s research.” For meetings, it becomes a matter of understanding what is fair use of materials under copyright law.
     One of the critical precautions for any planner is to make sure every speaker has signed a written agreement. Following is some language to consider including in that contract.
     Warranty and hold harmless.The Speaker represents and warrants that none of the material contained in the Presentation will violate or infringe upon the proprietary or statutory rights of any person or entity; or constitute an invasion of anyone’s right to privacy; and that the Speaker shall not libel, slander or defame anyone in making the Presentation.
In the event of a breach of this warrant, the Speaker shall defend, indemnify and hold the Client, all of its officers, directors, employees and agents, and each of them, harmless from any and all claims or causes of action, including court costs and attorneys’ fees, resulting from such breach. The Client shall select legal counsel acceptable to this.
By signing such a statement, the presenter agrees that any materials he or she uses are not otherwise copyrighted,  nor do they infringe upon someone else’s intellectual property rights unless they have been given specific written authorization to use the material.
Additionally, the contract should specifically state that the speaker or author will not defame or otherwise castigate someone else. Such actions could lead to liability, since the sponsor could reasonably be considered a “publisher” of the defamation.

You can protect your organization further by including a disclaimer added to all promotional materials and the program that will be distributed on site, as well as on the organization’s website.
     A sample disclaimer reads: The views and opinions expressed by speakers or others who have provided materials to and for this meeting are not necessarily those of the organization. The organization assumes no responsibility for nor endorses any of the comments, recommendations or materials that are provided.

One other area meeting professionals often overlook is close to the issue of plagiarism and concerns copyright infringement.
     Photographs, for example, are a classic topic of concern. Under current U.S. copyright law, photographs/images belong to the photographer or image-maker. In your agreement with any photographer, make sure you do own the right to reproduce the images and use them in any media you might want to employ, such as print, electronic or otherwise.

Consistently, the issue of intellectual property is an ongoing concern for the meeting professional. Well-drafted and carefully crafted contracts outlining who owns what will go a long way in alleviating that burden, not to mention clarify who is responsible for somebody who goes astray and unlawfully infringes someone else’s property rights.