In the age of virtual meetings, no one seems to think twice about hitting the record button. When a recording captures a prepared presentation, though, it is important to respect the author/presenter’s copyright in the material.
What is a copyright? A copyright is a legal right granting the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution. Note the plural: a copyright is not a single right; it is a bundle of rights. The owner of the copyright has the rights to:
Copy the work
Distribute the work
Display the work
Perform the work; and
Adapt the work.
These rights are independent. If an author gives someone the right to copy a long passage from a book, that does not mean that the author has granted them right to distribute the copy, to read it aloud to an audience, to set it to music, or to hang it on a wall. Each of these would require separate permission from the author.
What is a Creator?
Every time an original work takes on a new form, the person transforming the work becomes a creator for purposes of copyright. A performance is considered a new “original” work, even though it is derived from the work of another author. The same is true of a recording of the performance. The performance and the recording are both considered “derivative works,” a term of art in copyright law. The original author controls who can make derivative works.
Therefore, authors are creators, presenters are creators, and recorders are creators. They have copyrights as follows:
The author of the speech has copyright in the speech.
The presenter has copyright in the performance.
The recorder has copyright in the recording.
What does this mean to creators of derivative works, such as presenters and recorders?
Practically speaking, the author of the presentation must agree that the presenter can perform it. The author and the presenter must agree to record. The distributor (often the organizer) must have permission from the author, presenter, and recorder to distribute.
Content can now be captured, edited, and distributed with a few keystrokes. New content is always in demand. There’s a lot of unlicensed content floating around the internet, being linked, copied and pasted with reckless abandon.
We won’t explore the ins and outs of working with highly compensated speakers – they have agents for that. However, it is not that difficult to stay on the right side of copyright law if you are an organizer, nor is it particularly difficult to exercise reasonable control over your content if you are an author or presenter.
Real World Advice.
Remember that once content hits the internet, it is very hard to get the genie back in the bottle, and this is where you need to focus. The last thing presenters and organizers want is viral infamy, so it is in everyone's interest to agree what content will be uploaded, and how it will look before clicking “Post.”
- Talk about the issues up front. At most local business presentations, the speech's author is also the presenter. The organizer and the presenter should always have a candid conversation about how the content will be used. Most speakers will agree to recording, but increasingly they want to know where it will be posted, and how it might be edited. They may want to know if the organizer intends to charge for access, or if access is limited, who it will be limited to.
- Be proactive. Presenters: If you show slides, brand them. If you provide downloadable material, brand it. If you present from a remote location, brand your background. Organizers: Think about co-branding.
- Write it down. Many organizers have a standard presenter contract. It should cover recording and distribution rights, revenue sharing, co-branding requirements, etc. Frequent presenters should have their own standard agreement. If your primary motivation is to get your name in front of new audiences, and not money, your contract can be straightforward and unintimidating. Think about how you want audiences to see you and make sure you retain reasonable control.
- Be flexible. Both creating the presentation and getting it ready for distribution are hard work. Appreciate the contributions of your better half. Do not automatically reject requests because they are not your usual deal. You might pick up some ideas you’ve never thought of. A mentor once told me that “every deal is an opportunity to review your forms.”
- Content is valuable. Presenters should ask for copies of the recording for a copy of the recording, and for permission to recycle it as a derivative work for your own purposes.