Saturday, April 20, 2013

Enthusiastic Attendees or Presentation Pirates? Attendee iPad/iPhone Media Capture is the Elephant in the Lecture Hall

Should you take photos of a speaker's slides at a conference? And if you do, should you share them on Facebook? Conference organizers and speakers are drawing lines on what's allowed and what's not. But they don't always agree. (Bareform photo)

There's an elephant in the lecture hall and it's time we talked about it: If you pay to attend a conference, does your registration fee entitle you to record it? If so, should you share it with others? Is it okay to use your iPhone to take photos of a speaker's slides? How much leeway should be allowed for personal or educational use of conference content?

Those are a few of the hot questions circulating in conference-planning circles for 2013. Media capture policy is also a question being discussed by leading speakers and clinicians. And it's something that attendees are doing more and more--if they are allowed.

For better or worse, technology is changing the way that conferences function--and may even be affecting their future.

The most palpable change is in the live tweets and Twitter images from conferences. Attendees can make comments or quote speakers; they may be answered or retweeted by people thousands of miles away, or across the room. Some conferences are mounting a separate screen in lecture halls, where tweets bearing a hashtag assigned to the conference--or even that particular lecture--stream down the screen.

Speakers usually can't see the screen, and that is sometimes a good thing.

Case in point: the best way to illustrate the high-risk consequences of photography or videotaping during a conference and sharing content via social media or on websites is the little warning in a popular song by the late great writer Warren Zevon. Photograph or video the wrong speaker and you may be emailing your friends to find you a good lawyer. Case in point #2: this is probably an illegally-posted YouTube video.

I was gambling in Havana, I took a little riskSend lawyers, guns and money, Dad, get me out of this*

A déclassé aspect of social media captures at conferences is that attendees can use their phones to openly or secretly photograph or even videotape a speaker's slides or a poster. Since the presentation is technically the intellectual property of the speaker, and the content of the slides is protected under an assumed or stated copyright, trouble arises when slides pop up on Twitter or Facebook or on blogs and websites. Interpretations of the legal aspects of this vary.

Speakers are generally split on this form of "innocent" piracy. Academic educators are usually the most blasé about it, while those professionals who spend a good deal of their time traveling to give lectures tend to object. In hoofcare, there is a high risk that a speaker can be identified with a "before" or "during" photo on a case study, rather than the "after" image that s/he might prefer.

Also, slides taken out of context can be misinterpreted by people who did not attend the lecture. They may also contain images of work that used prototype shoes or tools and that are not meant to stand any test of time.

Manufacturers and entrepreneurs, on the other hand, usually love nothing more than to see their images shared on social media, since it becomes a form of free advertising. But that changes if they are showing a prototype or sharing a proprietary image of how a product is made.

Some speakers are now specifically stating in contracts that conferences may not allow videotaping or SmartPhone image captures during lectures. Conversely, some conferences thrive on the publicity generated by social media and insist that speakers waive their claims of ownership. At other conferences, the sharing policy is lenient during some events, prohibited during others.

Looking out at a sea of iPhones raised during a lecture can be ego-boosting for some speakers, and distracting or intimidating to others, who complain that it creates a rock concert atmosphere that detracts from a learning environment. People in the audience also complain about raised iPhones and video cameras blocking their views and, as if to prove a point, some images shared on social media are punctuated by raised phones in rows closer to the screen.

Sometimes the impromptu things that happen during a conference, especially during q-and-a times, are much more worth sharing--and you can legally do so. No one expected speaker Pat Reilly to show off his own shoes at The Laminitis Conference in 2011.
The flip side of the intellectual property and copyright coin is attendee comprehension. Suppose an attendee does not understand a slide? He or she can snap a photo of it to discuss with the speaker later, or send an image to an associate of a new product and suggest that it be added to their supplies.

But as speakers become aware that their PowerPoint images are out of their control, they are adjusting the quality of their presentations accordingly. The "A Game" slide set might be reserved for conferences that enforce a no-cameras policy. Lax policies might get the "Plan B"set of slides that do not contain the speaker's best or newest slides, although he or she may describe the work in detail.

Many attendees are annoyed if convention centers or hotel ballrooms are not equipped with WiFi, or if cell reception is blocked but this may be intentional to prevent the presentations from being illegally shared via social media, or the conference planners may merely opt out of the extra (and hefty) charges for WiFi and cell accessibility.

Conferences need to develop a policy, announce it in registration materials and moderators need to remind the audience of the policy. I've seen signs in lecture halls reminding attendees not to take photos, although I have not seen anyone collared by security guards (yet). Some conferences' policies state that they reserve the right to confiscate recording equipment and hold it until the end of the event. Others extend the no-media capture policy to trade shows.

Professor Robert Bowker of Michigan State University answers a question posed to him by way of an image on photographer Paige Poss's iPad at the end of a lecture at the No Laminitis Conference last year. (Fran Jurga photo)
The flip side of this situation is interesting as well. I was moderating at a conference once when the speaker on deck took me aside and complained to me that the current speaker was showing some of his slides, without his permission. They'd been pirated. What should he do, since the same slides were in his presentation? I didn't have an answer, but I haven't stopped thinking about it, either.

I've often been surprised to see my own images projected by speakers during presentations. Seeing my images used on Facebook as profile images for complete strangers is another matter. Photos harvested from the Google Image Search site are usually subject to copyright and the future quality of images for this blog is at risk as some people are hesitant to have their best photos used on the web now, thanks to the prevalent piracy of images on Facebook via Pinterest and Google Image Search and image capture techniques.
One conference's media policy, as stated in registration materials

In the worst-case scenario, captured images can be used out of context to embarrass the presenter or challenge his or her credibility.

Here are some suggestions as we move forward:

If you are hosting a conference:
  • Consider the pros and cons of having an official policy on media capture by attendees, or else make it clear to speakers that it is up to them to police the issue. 
  • Proceedings and handouts that contain images are a possible way to appease attendees who argue that they capture slides or videotape entire presentations because they are "visual learners". Consider creating an online or on-site media kiosk for attendees to download material provided by the speakers.
  • State the event's media capture policy on registration materials. If media capture is prohibited, provide a check box for attendees to indicate that they have read and understand the policy and will comply.
If you are presenting at an event:
  • Search your soul and decide how generous you can be without jeopardizing the integrity of your content and your professional reputation, should your images be abused.
  • Share your media capture policy with your audience and have a way to share outside the lecture hall. Example: "Please, no photos during my talk. See me afterwards if you'd like copies of one of my slides." 
  • Post an email address for attendees to contact you. Or, post a slide with the phone number of your attorney or content permission agent if you wish to discourage casual sharing. 
  • Make sure that conference organizers know that you expect your policy to be enforced. 
  • Overmark images with your ID before adding them to your presentation.
  • Don't share your photos with colleagues if you don't want them to be intentionally or accidentally assimilated into their presentations.
If you are attending an event:
  • Do not assume that it is ok to photograph slides or videotape presentations, even if you know and are trusted by the presenter. Your personal relationship may be trumped by a conference policy. 
  • Conversely, realize that even if the event has a laissez-faire policy on videotaping or media capture, the speaker may not.
  • Ask the speaker in advance to avoid the embarrassment of that dreaded tap on the shoulder, or call from an attorney.

If you use Facebook, Twitter and other media that can be used to share images and video:
  • Think before you click on the "share" button, especially if a photo or video is not credited to its creator. Everything comes from somewhere, and it should be duly noted in exchange for the privilege of passing an image around. 
  • Do not post anything from the web or Google Image Search on your web site or Facebook wall unless it is clearly marked as being freely available. Even if it is, you still should identify the source. If an image doesn't say "free to share", don't do it unless you contact the owner and gain permission. Even then, clearly acknowledge the source in a way that cannot be deleted.
Northport, Long Island_0255-1
Do lawyers really need to part of our professional conferences? At least this Long Island firm has a sense of humor. (Image by Ditsy Chic)
We all need to learn more about copyright law and intellectual property rights. We can't afford for presenters to purloin their best presentations because they have been harmed in the past.

Where will all this end up? In court, sooner or later, without a doubt. It's likely that more high-profile industries than equine hoofcare will set a standard, and it will be interesting to see if we end up with similar rulings in different countries, since social media is global.

The ultimate act of sharing is the hours, days, weeks and months that generous, dedicated speakers spend in preparing their PowerPoints, rehearsing their lectures, documenting their cases and shooting their photos. Speakers often are unpaid or, at best, underpaid. They deserve respect and piracy of their work--however innocent and well-intended--harms them, the event, the future of professional education, all the people sitting around you, and your reputation.

* Lyrics from "Lawyers, Guns and Money" by Warren Zevon
Top image adapted from Bareform image on

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to  
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