Writers in the Storm

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September 8, 2017

The Law (and Ethics) of Conference Blogging

Susan Spann

This week, I’m preparing my lecture notes for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference, which takes place this weekend (September 9-11) in Denver. Since conferences are on my mind, let’s take a minute to review some important do’s and don’ts about workshop and conference-related blogging and social media shares:

1. Presentations, Slides, & Handouts Are Subject to Copyright.

Everyone loves a great presentation, conference workshop, or writing class. When you attend a fantastic workshop, it’s tempting to blog or share the content on social media—both because you found it useful and because you want to help others who couldn’t attend the event in person.

However: in almost all cases, workshops, lectures, and other presentations are the intellectual property of the speaker who presented them. Reproducing a speaker’s handouts, powerpoint slides, or content (including recordings of the event) without the speaker’s permission is almost always a copyright violation.

Sharing your general impressions, or a helpful tip or two, is fine. Speakers love to hear that you enjoyed the class, and generally appreciate people blogging, tweeting or otherwise sharing a quote or a sound byte (or even a few). Praise the speaker and the workshop all you’d like on social media (or your blog) – but don’t reproduce the presentation content or post the handouts unless you’ve requested (and received) the speaker’s permission in advance.

2. Beware of Posting Photographs of Strangers.

In many places, you have to have permission from “recognizable people” in a photograph in order to post their images online (especially on an author website or in promotional material). When taking conference photos, try to crop out strangers (either at the time or after the fact, using photo editing software), unless you have permission to post their images.

(Note: if the strangers’ images are blurry, and not recognizable, you’re ok. Most photo programs allow you to blur a face – and if the face is small enough, it isn’t obvious that you did.)

Some conferences post signs and warnings about photography during the event, stating that attendees grant permission for their photos to be taken and used in connection with the conference. However, while these warnings protect the conference organizers, they may not protect private individuals (i.e., attendees like you and me) against liability for use of someone else’s image.

Even when taking photos with your friends, make sure they understand you’re planning to post the photographs online. (And it’s nice to ask ahead of time if the photo isn’t flattering). Some friends may expect this—but others may not—so be aware.

3. It’s Always Polite to Link.

When posting online about conferences, workshops, and other events, the organizers or presenters appreciate when you link to their websites (or social media tags). Not only does this let the presenter (and event organizers) know you liked the event, but it encourages other people to attend and support the presenters and workshops too.

Obviously, this isn’t a complete or exhaustive list of the potential legal issues surrounding conferences and blogging. That said, it’s important to treat our fellow writers, presenters, and conference organizers—and their work—with respect and appreciation.

Have you had people plagiarize you, or even just share something online you weren't prepared for? How did you handle it? What other questions do you have for Susan?

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About Susan

Publishing LawSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business, and is also the author of the Hiro Hattori (Shinobi) mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, released from Seventh Street Books in August 2016. Susan was the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

Find her online at http://www.SusanSpann.com, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (/SusanSpannBooks).


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23 comments on “The Law (and Ethics) of Conference Blogging”

  1. Susan, the other two I knew, but it would have NEVER occurred to me to have to 'fuzz out' people's faces! And not to start a rant, but it seems silly to me that we'd have to worry about this, but the cameras everywhere for store security and law enforcement is under no such rules.


    But, as always, thanks for keeping us safe!

    1. I don't know about phone apps to do it, Jenny - I edit mine in Photoshop or iPhoto - but hopefully someone else knows how to do it via phone!

      I can understand your frustration Laura (though the security cameras' footage aren't being used for public purposes - or in the context of helping the company sell its products - which is one reason for the difference).

  2. You would think that the conference speakers, especially if they are authors, would want and encourage the publicity to help get their name out there and potentially sell more books. But I guess some of them are too stuck up to realize that.

    1. Robert, I don't think it has to do with being stuck up. If someone presents slides with copyrighted material and then someone shares it without permission and attribution, it's like it feels when someone pirates a book. Taking a quote, or some nice takeaways from the talk and sharing it online generates the same buzz and interest without violating their copyright. In my experience, I've got nothing but appreciation for that from authors and presenters.

    2. Robert, while I can understand your reaction, the reality is that Jenny is correct - when a speaker makes his or her living presenting workshops and selling books, it's important for people to go to that speaker's website (or see his or her presentations from the source) in order to know where to find and buy the books. When someone else reproduces the speaker's work without permission, readers have to "travel" at least 2-3 more clicks to get to the purchase site, and all the evidence shows that people don't go to that additional trouble. Moreover, when someone creates something of value, it's theirs, and taking it without permission is (as Jenny said) more like pirating content than sharing for value.

      If you want to help speakers spread the word or sell books, it's better to just say "hey, I saw so-and-so speak about [topic] and (s)he was really great! Go to his/her website here: [link]."

      Reproducing a speaker's content on another website is really more like trying to draw followers away from the speaker - because people are getting the content without having to access the speaker. (And increasing the value of the website that reproduces the content, through no effort on the part of the person who owns that website and reproduced the content.)

  3. Thanks for giving us this heads-up, Susan. I've used the links-back-to-speakers as a way to thank them for their workshops.

    1. I do that too, Fae - and when I blog about conferences, I give a quick review or praise for the class, mentioning content in general terms but then sending people to the speaker's website (or the conference website) for the details.

  4. Are conferences not considered a public event, I thought that in journalism class (which was, admittedly, quite a few years ago), we were told that people at public events and places could have no "reasonable expectation of privacy," so we didn't have to blur faces in such cases. Can you elaborate on that? 🙂

    1. Stephanie - it depends on the location and the nature of the event. While you're correct with regard to journalism, the laws differ when you're talking about journalistic efforts (news reporting, etc) and when you're talking about using photos for private promotional purposes (which is not journalism). While some blogging does qualify as journalism, not all Internet (or other) use of images qualifies under the journalistic exceptions - which is why I gave the warning. The penalties are stiff, so if people are not certain their use qualifies as a journalistic exception, it's better to just blur strangers' faces. (In most cases, it doesn't even really harm the photograph.) Also, not all places in the world have journalistic exceptions for fair use of images - so depending on where you are and what you're attending, that's an issue also.

    2. Also - conferences may not count as "public events" in many states, because the conference has an entrance fee and limitations on who can attend, which means it isn't "open to the public" the same way things must be to qualify as "public events" under journalism laws.

  5. Thank you so much for reminding folks that class content is copyright protected! Nothing makes me crazier than the way writers "innocently" steal from each other all the time. *insert grumpy face*

    1. Traci, I'm totally sorry that someone has lifted your stuff. I share quotes and snippets online all the time, but entire lifted recordings and slide content? Um, no. And I've seen people do both.

    2. Glad to do it, Traci. I've had things lifted myself (ironic, when you consider it was legal content...) and while I realize people often do this innocently, it's important for people to realize it is illegal - and that even though many, if not most, authors don't have the inclination (or, in some cases, resources) to pursue legal remedies, it's still wrong to take what doesn't belong to you.

  6. Excellent tips, Susan. I especially was interested to hear about photos of people at public events. I know attendees have published photos of people -- the crowd -- at my signings. Thanks!

    1. Thanks James! In many cases, nothing ever comes of these images - someone in the crowd would need to see it and complain and/or pursue an action for there to be any legal consequences (and even then, the photo's use would have to exceed the boundaries of a journalistic exception). That said - I prefer to avoid the problems entirely, and suggest that risk-averse people do the same.

  7. Great tips. I always try to share a couple takeaways from a panel or workshop when I blog about a conference, but I'm very mindful of copyright. I didn't know about people's images, but I'll keep that in mind now.

  8. These are great tips. I know that I'm very cagey about people posting photos which include my children (not that they would be at this sort of event) and I appreciate when people run their intended use for any pictures past me before snapping away.

  9. This happened to me once. Someone took snap shots of all my slides and used it to create a copy-cat class, then sold it online. So not okay!

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