Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
WHO OWNS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?
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
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
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
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
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.
UP ON STAGE
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
INDEPENDENT VIEWJonathan 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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