Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 14 2015

Legal Issues & Streaming Apps: 8 Great Takeaways

By Regina McGee

What legal issues do new live-streaming mobile apps such as Periscope and Meerkat raise for meeting planners?

PCMA’s legal counsel, Paula Cozzi Goedert, addressed that question and others in “Disruptive Technologies — Legal Insight You Need to Know Now,” an information-packed session at last month’s 2015 Education Conference in Fort Lauderdale. Goedert, partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, provided a timely, cogent analysis of how new streaming apps affect speaker contracts and much more.

Here are key takeaways from Goedert’s comments* at the session:

What are the legal issues around live streaming by attendees at conferences?

When it comes to emerging technologies like live streaming, the courts go back to the basics, asking who owns the copyright? In the case of a speaker at a convention or professional conference, it’s the speaker who owns the rights to capture his or her presentation — whether it’s through live streaming or other audiovisual. So If the speaker contract stipulates no audiovisual or other capture, the burden on the event organizer [to prevent that from happening]. Of course, here’s the rub, we don’t have control over every person in the room.

So the meeting planner is responsible when someone in the audience uses a smart phone to live stream without permission?

You have to use your best effort to honor your speaker contract. That means doing things like making an announcement at the start of the session about what kinds of capture is not permitted. Put it up on the overhead and on the door to the meeting room. If a staff member sees someone using a phone to live stream, there probably is duty to let that person know “no capture permitted, please put that down.” But you don’t need an army of security guards snatching devices from participants. You want to be careful but not neurotic.

Isn’t “best effort” a subjective term, open to interpretation?

Courts are not likely to hold violation of no-streaming as a strict liability, where you are responsible for all incidents of live streaming. The key is to be doing enough upfront that the other side will say, “This isn’t worth pursuing because they took reasonable steps to honor the contract.”

What should the speaker contract stipulate?

Your contract with your speaker is a license and licenses are narrowly construed. So make sure you contracts are very clear and specific on what is and isn’t permitted with regard to live streaming, audiovisual, and so on. Speakers will be more valuable to the association and be more in demand if they do permit capture, and we should be looking for opportunities to put capture permission in speaker contracts.

Are there any issues around live streaming and sponsors?

It’s always a good idea to let sponsors know that the sponsored event may be captured in live stream or other audiovisual. A potential problem might arise when the logo of some other company [not the sponsor of the event] is captured in the room and associated with a speaker with whom that particular company doesn’t want to be associated. If you as the event organizer are doing the live streaming, make sure your service provider limits what’s captured. Again, it’s about being careful but not neurotic.

How liable is the attendee who is actually doing the live streaming?

Most speakers would rather sue an organization with insurance and deep pockets than bother with an individual.

But don’t people have the right to stream short snippets?

An attendee probably can stream a few seconds of something but you’ve got to be very careful because that doesn’t override a speaker contract. A speaker probably doesn’t have suit in such a case unless the sponsoring organization didn’t exercise reasonable effort to prevent.

How should the verbiage of disclaimers appearing on meeting and registration materials change with regard to live streaming?

I absolutely would change notices in registration materials to include the possibility of live streaming, even if there are no events that are scheduled to be streamed. You want to put attendees on notice that as members of the audience their voice or image may be captured or streamed. You can put the notice in multiple places but the real binding contract between the meeting sponsor and the attendee is the registration form, even if it’s online and doesn’t require an actual John Hancock. Don’t put the disclaimer in tiny type at the very end. The more visible it is the better off you are.

•Editor’s Note: Comments have been excerpted and edited for brevity and clarity. 

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