Using Copyrighted Works for Meetings, Seminars, and Conferences

By Cochran, J. Wesley | Information Outlook, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Using Copyrighted Works for Meetings, Seminars, and Conferences


Cochran, J. Wesley, Information Outlook


Information technology has given professional meetings and seminars a new look. Speakers now routinely use laptop computers to project visual aids and incorporate into their presentations large portions of material located on the Internet or digitized by optical scanners. Accompanying materials may be distributed in paper, in microform, on CD-ROM, or placed on the web. As the use of these materials in presentations becomes more widespread, the speakers and the sponsoring associations must consider the copyright implications of such acts.

There are two primary uses made of copyrighted works to support and enhance professional development programs: (1) reproduction of copyrighted articles, chapters, graphs, and other materials distributed as handouts or posted on the web and (2) display and performance of copyrighted works in the course of a meeting or seminar. Each of these is grounded in section 106 of the Copyright Act.

The reproduction of copyrighted materials as handouts and supporting materials for conferences is covered by section 106, subsection (1) and (3). The rights of reproduction and distribution are among the exclusive rights of the copyright holder. There are limitations on these exclusive rights, but none that absolutely exempts the reproduction of materials for conferences and seminars. There are guidelines for reproducing multiple copies of materials in nonprofit educational institutions, but these do not apply. Even though the conference may be sponsored by a nonprofit agency or association, the multiple copying guidelines are available only to schools. The only exemption that could offer some help is fair use. Fair use excuses uses of copyrighted works if certain factors exist. These factors are: (1) purpose and character of the use, (2) nature of the copyrighted work, (3) amount and substantiality used, and (4) market effect.

While the purpose of the use is educational, courts have made it clear that educational purpose is not enough. Even uses by nonprofit educational institutions may not qualify as fair use. On the other hand, nonprofit uses are favored over commercial ones. The works reproduced by associations for seminars and meetings are likely to be scholarly articles, book chapters, scientific graphs, charts, and the like. While fair use certainly applies to these works, the third factor may be a problem. As the Texaco opinion indicated, reproduction of a scientific article means that one-hundred percent of a work is copied, and not a small portion. The same is true for a chart or graph. For market effect, since multiple copies are involved, a court likely would consider the existence of licensing mechanisms such as the Copyright Clearance Center, the availability of publishers' reprints, etc., in judging this factor.

On balance, a court likely would find that permission should be sought and royalties paid for the reproduction of multiple copies to distribute at professional seminars and meetings.

The second issue, performance and display at professional meetings and training sessions, is covered by section 106, subsections (4) and (5) which provide that copyright owners generally may control the public performance and public display of their works. A seminar speaker using a protected work without permission in a setting that qualifies as a public performance or public display would infringe copyright unless the use is excused by a defense, such as fair use.

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Using Copyrighted Works for Meetings, Seminars, and Conferences
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