January 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January 2002 Current Issue
January 2002 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


Handle another’s materials and ideas with care, whether or not they’re copyrighted

The issue of who owns intellectual property in the meetings industry including speeches, photographs or even an idea can be very touchy, especially when an event host plans to reuse the material.

For the most part, protection of such property is covered by three areas: copyright, patent and trademark. Most meeting planners need not be concerned with the last two; the key area to consider is copyright law.

When a person creates a literary, musical, scientific or artistic work, she is the owner of that work. The creator then is entitled to control how the work is used. Under copyright law, a multitude of economic rights are involved, including reproduction, broadcasting, public performance, adaptation, translation, public display, distribution and more. Also covered is moral right, allowing the author to object to any distortion, mutilation or modification of the work that is prejudicial to his reputation or honor.

In order for there to be a copyright, two things must be present. First, the work must be original to the creator; second, it must be in a form that can be copied. Thus, a speech in and of itself may not be copyrighted; however, written copies of the speech or audio or video versions are in a form that can be copied and would be protected so long as the materials are original to the creator.

Also, copyright is global. Various international treaties protect the rights of creators of copyrighted material.

When using third parties, be sure there is a clear understanding of who owns what. For example, under the law, a photographer owns the image he has created by virtue of taking the picture or digital image. That image does not belong to the buyer; the buyer is given a limited license to use the image.

In one case a few years ago, a convention and visitors bureau bought a picture of the city’s skyline for a limited purpose. Subsequently, it used the skyline image for other advertising. The photographer sued successfully because the CVB had not bought the additional rights.

Thus, when working with authors, composers, photographers and others, understand the extent of the rights you are purchasing. If you want an unlimited license, specify that the intellectual property is being created as a “work for hire.” In this case, the creator basically cedes all rights to the buyer.

With presentations, planners need to be sure the meeting host is protected from someone else’s claim that the speaker infringed on a copyright. In speaker contracts, include a provision that the presenter or author has the authority to use the materials in his presentation. Additionally, add an indemnification clause in case you are sued for infringement.

On your own materials, indicate they are copyrighted, whether or not you have filed yet. I state at a minimum, “Copyright 2002, Jonathan T. Howe, Chicago, Ill.” Thereafter, you can file an official federal registration for a modest fee, which gives you additional benefits, including the right to statutory damages and legal fees.

When responding to a request for proposal, many independent planners worry their ideas will be used, but not their services. One way to protect your ideas is to do what software companies do: State on the sealed envelope containing the response that, if opened, the client agrees the ideas contained therein will not be used unless either compensation is paid to you or the services are provided by you.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago 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

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