by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | January 01, 2006

Intellectual property in the meetings arena too often gets overlooked. So many elements come under this umbrella: speeches, artwork, music and design, for example. When I do a presentation with a handout, I make sure a copyright notice is included on the material.

Making It Official
To have a copyright, two elements must be present. First, the artwork or writing must be original to the person claiming the copyright. Second, it must be in a format that can, indeed, be copied. In the meetings arena, there are several areas that planners should beware of. 
    Speeches. Make sure when you sign a contract with your speaker that she is not infringing upon anyone else’s copyrighted material or intellectual property. If the presentation will use images or passages from another’s work, the speaker will need to show she has permission to use the materials or must cite the original source in handouts. A great (and copyright-free) adage to remember: “The difference between plagiarism and research is citation.”
    Prior to the advent of the Internet, violations of copyright law were confined to a meeting’s printed materials and the tape-recorded program. We now live in a digital world, where taking what belongs to someone else is much easier. While the old laws and their amendments still apply, catching the villains is not so simple.
    On the Internet and in print, the presenter and/or meeting host might be liable for anything communicated during the event, including but not limited to defamatory, discriminatory, false or unauthorized information. Users are responsible for complying with the requirements of applicable copyright and trademark laws.
    Photographs used in montages. Can photographers use images of others without first obtaining their permission to do so? Can planners use client images in brochures without obtaining permission first? Essentially, the rule is that the photographer owns the image, but he must have a signed release from the person or people in the picture if it will be used for commercial purposes. As for speakers using copyrighted images as part of their presentations, they must get permission from the photographer to use the picture in their slide show.
    Music at meetings. How liable are planners for music-licensing violations by deejays, musicians, speakers and others at meetings? Licenses to use the copyrighted songs must be obtained from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) by the sponsor of the event for performances held in the United States.

Planners should include clauses in their speaker contracts indemnifying their clients and themselves from misuse of materials by speakers. 
    A sample: The Speaker represents and warrants that none of the material contained in the presentation to be made by Speaker will violate or infringe upon the proprietary or statutory rights, including but not limited to copyrights, of any person or entity, or constitute an invasion of anyone’s right to privacy, and that Speaker shall not libel, slander or defame anyone in making the presentation. In the event of a breach of this Paragraph, Speaker shall defend, indemnify and hold [the meeting host], 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.
    For all artistic elements used in a meeting, know who owns what, whether it is protected by copyright and whether permission has been obtained for its use.