On Conference Slides

Disclaimer: I'm not attorney, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. This covers my own best practices and may not fit your specific situation.

This past weekend, Paul Reinheimer – formerly of php|architect and provider of some amazing lemonade at phpAppalachia – raises a great point about conference slides and who can do what with them:

So if a helpful conference organizer uploads my slides to thinkfree, they’ve also given thinkfree to use the content however they see fit. They’ve also given any site visitor the right to use those slides without restrictions. My legalese is rusty, but it sounds like: any site visitor or the company behind thinkfree can do with as they please, any content that’s uploaded and public.

I'm not an attorney and don't understand the intracies of the legal profession, let alone the nastiness of copyright and IP enforcement.  I do know that posting someone's slides somewhere is considered “distribution” and that is one of the things covered by copyright.

So after the php|tek 2009 unconference, when people sent me their slides, I politely declined.  The reason for this is simple – and Paul nails it – I don't know which distribution rights they're granting me or what rights and responsibilites come along with it.

Are the slides just for attendees?  Are all their graphics, quotes, etc properly used, attributed, etc?

I have no clue.

Paul's primary concern – posting slides on a third party service and the Terms of Service applied – is even worse when there is a copyright dispute.  I've been on both sides of one and the first step is always to ask the offender to stop.  If I've distributed someone else's slides, now I'm in a loop I don't want to be a part of.  If I've handed off distribution to someone else, the problem compounds.  Even worse, maybe I was the one that created the problem in the first place and opened everyone up to risk.  Ugh.

Therefore, as people sent their slides for the unconference, I made a simple request:

Please post these slides yourself with a synopsis of your session and send me the link. It's easier – legally, hosting-wise – for the speakers to post the slides themselves and to just link to them… then there's no question about rights, etc.

While this does nothing to address the underlying Terms of Service of any of the slide hosting sites, I let the creator deal with that problem… and don't make any assumptions otherwise.