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Meetings and the law copyright virtual events article


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Meetings and the Law: Must Knows for the Digital Age

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Meetings and the law copyright virtual events article

  1. 1. LAW OFFICESHOWE & HUTTON, LTD.ST. LOUIS OFFICE: 20 NORTH WACKER DRIVE WASHINGTON, DC OFFICE:1421 BUCKHU R ST CO UR T SU ITE 4200 1901 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, N.W.B ALLW IN, M IS SO UR I 63021 CHICAGO, ILLINOIS 60606-3191 SU ITE 1007TE LEP HO NE (636) 256-3351 TELEPHONE (312) 263–3001 W ASH ING TON, DC 20006FAX (636) 256-3727 FAX (312) 372–6685 TELEPHONE (202) FAX (202)©Copyright 2012. Howe & Hutton, Ltd. Chicago, IL, St. Louis, MO, Washington, DC. All rights reserved underboth international and Pan American copyright conventions.“Legal Issues In the Virtual Atmosphere”By:Barbara F. Dunn, Esq.We often focus our time and attention to legal issues involving face to face meetings.From hotel and convention center contracts to accidents and emergencies while onsite atmeetings, legal issues can abound. So it might follow logic that with virtual events, the legalissues would be far less. That logic is, unfortunately, not true. In fact, when groups enter the“virtual atmosphere” for their events, the legal issues can be many and be unexpected. So whatlegal issues should groups focus on when planning and managing their next virtual event?CopyrightCopyrights are one of the primary types of intellectual property. Copyrights protectoriginal works of authorship such as presentations, articles, software, songs, and pictures just toname a few. While often confused with trademarks (trademarks are a word, picture or symbolwhich identify a source - such as your organization’s name or logo), copyrights are verydifferent. For those who create copyrighted works, United States law provides very favorableprotection. The work of the copyright owner is automatically protected under copyright lawfrom the moment it is created and owners are afforded a “bundle” of rights to do the following:reproduce work, prepare derivative works, publicly distribute copies, publicly perform, andpublicly display the work.When it comes to virtual events, just as it does with face to face meetings, organizationswill heavily on speaker content to drive attendance. As such, it is important to ensure that thecorresponding copyright issues have been addressed. Unless the speaker is an employee of thesponsoring organization (in which case the sponsoring organization owns the copyright to thework), the speaker owns the copyright to the presentation and all related materials. As such, thesponsoring organization must secure permission from the speaker to display and use thespeaker’s oral presentation (via audio or videotape) as well as any written handouts, slides, etc.The legal term for getting permission for use of copyright is license. In order to be mosteffective, the license should be in writing and signed by the speaker. The license should also
  2. 2. seek to secure as many of the “bundle” of rights as outlined above in case the sponsoringorganization chose to expand its use of the speaker’s materials in the future, such as translatingthe speaker’s materials into Spanish (which would be considered to be a derivative work).When the speaker’s material is displayed on the virtual events website, it should be displayedwith the appropriate copyright notice such as the following:“©Copyright 2012. Susie Speaker – Nowhere, Land, U.S.A. All rights reserved.”It is also important the people who attend and use the virtual event acknowledge that thematerials included in the virtual event are owned by others and that they may not reproduce orforward the materials to anyone else without the prior written consent of the copyright owner.Meeting AppsWe have all heard the saying, “There’s an app for that,” to refer to just about anythingfrom Angry Birds to airline flight trackers. But many organizations are creating apps for theirown meeting – both face to face and virtual. Here again, many copyright issues are raised as aresult since these apps are original works of authorship and thereby protected by copyright law.Often, the apps are created by outside vendors. As such, the vendor will own the copyright tothe meeting app unless it assigns or transfers its rights in the work to the sponsoringorganization. Upon transfer, the sponsoring organization would own the “bundle of rights” tothe work. If the vendor is unwilling to transfer copyright ownership to the work (it may want toretain its copyright ownership so that It can reuse the work for another group), the sponsoringorganization will need to secure a license as noted above. In either instance, it is important thatthe agreement between the sponsoring organization and the vendor be noted in writing.The agreement should also address the functionality of the app and the right of thesponsoring organization to have any functionality problems with the app corrected immediately.Finally, the agreement should also address any confidential information the vendor may collect(such as names and address of meeting attendees) and ensure that the vendor will not use orforward this information to any other party.IndemnificationWith any activity, including virtual events, there is the possibility of liability due to thenegligence or wrongdoing of another. In the case of virtual events, there is the possibility thatthe sponsoring organization could be brought into a lawsuit relating to copyright infringement ordefamation, among other things. For example, if a speaker used someone else’s copyrightedwork in their presentation without that person’s permission, such use would constitute copyrightinfringement and the sponsoring organization could be sued as a result of displaying thematerials as part of its virtual event. Given this risk, indemnification provisions should beincluded in every contract relating to virtual events and meeting apps. The essence ofindemnification is that the person or company takes financial responsibility for their actions – ifthey have done something wrong and the sponsoring organization gets sued as a result, it willhold the sponsoring organization harmless, i.e., they will not be harmed from a financialstandpoint, as a result of the wrongful act. The indemnifying party will be required to hire legal
  3. 3. counsel to defend the lawsuit on behalf of the sponsoring organization and to have any damagesawarded against it paid by the indemnifying party.InsuranceAs with any type of meeting-related activity, it is important to ensure that the sponsoringorganization has appropriate insurance coverage in place to protect itself from any possible risk.Typically, the sponsoring organization’s comprehensive general liability insurance should coverclaims such as those for copyright infringement and defamation but it is important to check thepolicy. In other instances the sponsoring organization will need to secure publisher’s liabilityinsurance to protect itself from claims involving virtual events. And it is also important thatwhen working with any vendor, the sponsoring organization verifies that such vendors have theirown insurance coverage in place o protect them against the vendor’s wrongful actions.SummaryIn summary, while the legal issues involved many differ, virtual events can be as risky asface to face meetings. But with proper planning, sponsoring organizations can ensure they haveaddressed these legal issues in a proper manner so as to prevent liability to the organization.***Barbara Dunn is an attorney and partner with the law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd. She can bereached at or (636) 256-3351.