Copyright and Presentations: How to Avoid Presentation-Related Copyright Infringement

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When building a PowerPoint presentation it can be very tempting to search the internet for the perfect photo, image, graph, or piece of music to liven up your slides and illustrate a particular point. However, if you do not pay attention to copyright you can expose yourself and your organization to potential legal liability. Similar risks can arise if an outside presenter is invited to present to your organization.

The materials used and the public presentation of the materials used in such a presentation can have legal consequences if any part of the presentation belongs to a copyright owner who has not given the necessary permission to use their copyrighted works. In 2024, we live in a digital age where these risks are ever growing due to increased reliance on online platforms to share content with colleagues, customers, and other members of the public.  

Copyright Basics

Copyright is the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish, or perform an original literary, artistic, dramatic, or musical work. Literary works include tables, computer programs, and compilations; artistic works include paintings, maps, chart, plans, and photographs; and dramatic works include audiovisual works such as videos.

Any presentation that includes these types of works could potentially infringe copyright if the works used are not open access materials and if the copyright owner of the works has not given permission for the use of their works. Permission can be granted by assignment or licencing. By assigning copyright, an owner gives someone else all of the rights associated with a work so that they become the new copyright owner. By licencing copyright, an owner gives someone the right to use the copyright in a particular way, but without relinquishing the ownership rights that would allow for the owner to licence it to other people and continue to use it themselves.

The Two Main Rights at Play

The two main rights that can get infringed during a presentation are reproduction rights and public performance rights. Reproduction rights do not allow anyone other than the copyright owner to make copies or reproductions of a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright owner. Public performance rights do not allow anyone other than the copyright owner to publicly perform a copyrighted work, including in a physical public location like a restaurant or concert, as well as by communication over cable television, on-demand streaming, or broadcast radio, without the permission of the copyright owner.

Two illustrative examples of how these rights could come into play in a presentation are as follows:

  • Copying a copyrighted image from a website into a PowerPoint without permission would infringe the reproduction right of the copyright owner and then streaming that presentation online or projecting the presentation on a screen in front of a live audience would also infringe the public performance rights of the copyright owner.
  • Putting an archived video of a presentation that belongs to a third party presenter online for on-demand streaming or downloading without asking permission could infringe both the public performance and reproduction rights of the copyright-owning third party presenter.

When putting together a presentation or when allowing a third party presenter to speak to your business/organization, ensuring that there is no infringement of any copyright owner’s reproduction and public performance rights should be top of mind.

A Note on Fair Dealing

Fair dealing is an important component of Canada’s balanced approach to copyright because it gives a user the right to use copyright protected works for certain purposes, without obtaining the consent of the owner. Put otherwise, there are circumstances where it is not an infringement of copyright to reproduce someone’s copyrighted work in a presentation or present a copyrighted work to a group of people in a public performance. Those circumstances are when the use is fair and the purpose of the use is for education, private study, parody or satire, news reporting, criticism, or research.

However, it is important to note that fair dealing is a defence, which means that it only becomes relevant after a claim of infringement has already been brought. Additionally, the boundaries of what constitutes fair dealing are not always clear because it is a fact dependent defence determined on a case by case basis. The lack of a clear delineation of what is and is not fair dealing means that the results of using a fair dealing defence are hard to predict, so there is risk associated with relying on a fair dealing defence with no guarantee of success. Litigation is often complex and expensive. In many cases, even if they are successful at trial in raising a fair dealing defense, a person can spend more in legal fees and other costs than it would have cost to acquire a copyright licence, so that the legal “win” is not worth the price.

A much safer way to try to avoid copyright infringement is to follow the best practices noted down below.

Best Practices for Using Images in Presentations

  • Assume that every image found online is protected by copyright and could be subject to a claim.
  • Use images that are in the public domain such as images found on Unsplash, Wikimedia Commons, and those licenced under Creative Commons (be sure to review the terms and conditions of any licences).
  • Develop a stock photo bank for your business/organization containing pre-approved, licenced, or assigned photographs.
  • Create your own original images.
  • Ensure that external presenters understand their copyright obligations and enter into a full representations & warranties agreement to avoid liability.

Best Practices related to Third-Party Presenters

  • Ask for prior review of any materials that are going to be distributed.
  • Get an acknowledgement that the presentation does not infringe copyright.
  • Get permission to reshare the presentation before distributing it to anyone else or offering it on an archived database.
  • Ask for permission to record the presentation and reshare the recording before doing so.

Practices to avoid

  • Do not copy and paste images from the internet, even if the work is attributed to its author, infringement claims can arise.
  • Do not assume that your business/organization is included in an exempt purpose or amount of work under fair dealing.
  • Do not assume that image creation sites, such as Canva, will allow you to freely use third-party content.
  • Do not assume that third party presenters will be aware of their copyright obligations.

Takeaways

The three major ways to avoid copyright infringement can essentially be summed up by stating that the works you can use either have to be (1) original creations in which you own the copyright, (2) open access creations in which copyright does not subsist, or (3) copyrighted creations that you are licensed to use. Ultimately, staying vigilant and aware of the source of the materials being used during a presentation, whether it be personally created/presented or created/presented by a third party, is integral to avoiding infringing copyright.

Associate at Fasken | Website | + posts

Kiera Boyd practices in the area of communications, with a particular emphasis on copyright.

Kiera graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. Prior to law school, she completed an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English Literature with a minor in Political Science at Queen’s University. During her summers throughout school, Kiera worked as an Administrative Assistant at a large national firm, where she was part of the Intellectual Property Team.

About Kiera Boyd

Kiera Boyd practices in the area of communications, with a particular emphasis on copyright. Kiera graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. Prior to law school, she completed an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English Literature with a minor in Political Science at Queen’s University. During her summers throughout school, Kiera worked as an Administrative Assistant at a large national firm, where she was part of the Intellectual Property Team.