I got a notice from RootsTech.org regarding recording my presentation at the RootsTech Conference. I wondered if the presenters were aware of the copyright implications of either having or not having a recording of their presentations? The key to this issue is the terminology used in copyright law which protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium from which the expression can be reproduced. Translated into English, this means that a presentation at a conference is not in itself copyrightable unless it is recorded in some tangible reproducible form. So, if I stand up and talk for fifty minutes my speech is not subject to copyright, but if it is recorded and could be replayed in any format or media, it is copyrighted.
Because the United States is a signatory to the Berne Convention on international copyright, the law in the U.S. has changed so that no notice of copyright is necessary. So, I don't have to tell the attendees that what I say is or is not subject to copyright. All I have to do is get up and speak. The act of recording whether known or unknown to the audience, is what triggers copyright protection. So, think about this, if you attend a presentation and record it, unknown to the presenter, you have just made the presentation subject to copyright and your surreptitious copy violates the copyright law.
Just in case you were wondering, all of the PowerPoint slides and any handout materials are automatically copyrighted. No notice of copyright protection is now required under U.S. law.
Now, what if the RootsTech folks make a recording of my presentation? Who owns the copyright? Obviously, since I am the author/creator I have a copyright unless I assign it to RootsTech or someone else. If I were an employee or contractor of one of the companies at the Conference and I made a presentation on behalf of my employer, then the owner of the copyright would be determined by the employment agreement. Unless otherwise expressed, the work for hire doctrine would give the employer first claim to the copyright.
In 2011 a bill was introduced in Hong Kong to protect presentations over electronic media. Around the world, the law concerning copyright changes almost daily so you simply cannot assume that the rule of the past will not change. If you would like to hear a little more on this changing subject, see a presentation by Harvard professor, Larry Lessig called "Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity."
The author is an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Arizona. Nothing in this article should be construed to be legal advice on any particular case or controversy. The opinions expressed in this post are entirely those of the author.