Thursday, September 16, 2010

Speakers: Ridiculously easy ways to avoid copyright problems with your handouts

An event planner I know emailed me this week to ask about a speaker's upcoming event.  She wrote:

Question for you Madame Communications Guru…if an article is online from a publication such as Washington Times or National Review, do we need permission to reprint? Especially if we're giving it out as handout material?

That's a question few speakers or organizers bother to ask, perhaps because they know the answer is "yes." If you're reprinting material published elsewhere, and it's protected by copyright, you likely need permission to reprint or reproduce it in full or in part.  That goes for those cute cartoons you like to show, for many photographs or copyrighted infographics, and much more, including some video and audio files.

Although it sounds like an infernal pain to get compliant with copyright, there are lots of easy ways to do so. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Give up the paper handouts.  As you can see on the Washington Post's permissions page, the one thing you're free to do with its content is to link to it.  So go paperless, and create a special blog or webpage for your background material, or send it in a followup email.  I decided it was "handouts no more" for me a couple of years ago, and find my audiences like the ease of going to a blog post, email or website with the information.
  2. License those one-of-a-kind options.  If you like New Yorker cartoons, the Cartoon Bank will sell you often reasonably priced licenses to use them in slide presentations, with prices varying depending on the use and format (handouts are included as one option). For that special cartoon, you may pay just $25.
  3. Seek out free and shareable content:  Creative Commons is a nonprofit that helps creators license their content, with options ranging from all rights reserved (that is, you'd have to ask permission) to free and shareable.  You can see this at work on photo-sharing sites like Flickr, where all the photos have some form of Creative Commons licensing. Just look for those marked "some rights reserved."
  4. Get the permissons when the item first appears--and you're thinking of it.  Like that article that covered your last speech, or the op-ed you wrote that's in the paper?  Ask for permission to reprint it while it's still fresh in your mind.
  5. Use stock options.  Stock content sites like Shutterstock offer graphics and photos. You pay a subscription fee and agree to terms, then download stock photos for your use.  (Shutterstock will give you two free downloads of featured photos and graphics each week if you register.)

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