Everyone loves a good joke, which is why presenters try to liven up an otherwise dull subject matter with stock cartoons, movie footage or other humorous material. This is particularly helpful after lunch breaks and, with the ease of creating multimedia presentations, has become downright ubiquitous in the arena of professional presentations. Indeed, “everybody does it.”
Problems can arise, however, if the image or clip used was copyright protected and the presenter was compensated for his materials or time. This is doubly true if the presentation is later made available on a publicly available website. There are trolling services that get paid to do nothing but search the internet for potential copyright violations. Before you know it, a presenter may be getting a notice of copyright infringement and demand for payment that can be in the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Are there any defenses to payment? The answer is a definite maybe. It all depends on the application of what is known as the “Fair Use” doctrine, a specific defense provided by the U.S. Copyright Act. A determination of whether the doctrine applies is based upon a number of factors including whether the work was copied for a commercial versus a nonprofit or educational purpose, the portion of the copyrighted work used, and the effect of the use upon the potential market of the work. All of the factors must weigh in favor of fair use. In other words, even if a presenter wasn’t paid and distributed the material for free, if the presenter copied substantially all of the work (such as a cartoon or photograph), the fair use defense will likely not apply. Compare that to using a clip from Star Wars, where the portion copied would presumably be minimal and impact on the marketability of the film virtually nonexistent.
To avoid potential headaches caused by the use of copyrighted works, presenters should take the extra effort to obtain a license or subscription for whatever works they wish to incorporate into their materials. These can be readily obtained from websites such as istockphoto.com and mlp.org (The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation).