Create PowerPoint Slides, Go To Jail

Even speakers can end up breaking the law
Even speakers can end up breaking the law
Image Credit

Argh! There never seems to be enough time to pull that next presentation together. Even though we know about the importance of public speaking somehow we always seem to find ourselves rushing around way too late in the process throwing our PowerPoint or Keynote decks together. We all know that images are important and so it’s all too easy to have Mr. Google go out and find that one perfect image or quote that so nicely sums up what you are trying to say. However, by doing this have you just broken the law?

All About That Copyright Thing

I’m sure that we’ve all heard about copyrights before, but do any of us really understand what they are? A copyright comes into existence when a creator creates a work. The copyright is a bundle of rights that relate to that work. The work could be a technical paper, a book, a movie, a photograph, etc.

The copyright owner has 5 different rights that are all related to the work that they have created. They can reproduce the work in copies. They can distribute the copies of their work that they’ve made. They can display their work. They can perform their work (this is especially important for audio works). Finally, they can also create derivative works that are based on their original work.

What happens if you “borrow” too much of someone’s work? Violating copyright law will depend on what country you are working in, but generally breaking a copyright law can carry both a civil and perhaps even criminal penalties. As speakers we can quote from other people’s works, but we need to be careful to not quote too much and to make sure that we attribute the quote correctly.

How Can Speakers Prevent Themselves From Breaking The Law

As speakers, sometimes we just don’t have the right way of saying something. If we find that someone else either said it better than we can or they created an image the perfectly captures what we’re trying to communicate, then we’d really like to work their work into our speech. The question is how best to do this without violating copyright laws?

First off, you’ll want to find out if the work that you want to use in your speech is covered under a copyright. The rules state that a copyright lasts for as long as the author is alive plus 70 years for any work that was not published before January 1st, 1978. Other rules apply to works that were created before then.

In order to use a work that is covered by a copyright, the simplest thing to do is to ask the author for their permission for you to use their work. The person who holds the copyright may be the author, their employer, or the estate of the author. Taking the time to get this permission can save you a world of grief later on.

What Does This Mean For You?

As speakers we generally have a single focus: presenting the best speech possible for our audience so that they can experience the benefits of public speaking. In our effort to do this, we can all too easily “borrow” material that really belongs to another author be it images or words. If we step too far over the line, then we’ve just broken the laws that surround copyrights.

A copyright is a bundle of rights that the person who originally created a work reserves. This includes the right to reuse their work. If you don’t have permission from them to use their work, then you can’t. As speakers we need to take the time to do our homework and determine if the work that we are using is protected by a copyright. If it is, then we need to seek out permission from the creator to use it.

Your audience has shown up to hear what you have to say, not to hear you share what somebody else said. No matter how good of a job that they did, you need to be very careful to not use too much of their work. Yes, you can reference it, but no you can’t copy it. Take the time to make sure that you remain on the right side of the copyright fence and you’ll be safe every time you give a speech.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: If you’ve give a speech and you think that you may have broken a copyright rule, what steps do you think that you should take?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When it comes time to create your next speech, how many colors will you use? I’m not talking about paints, but rather words. For you see, every speech that we give is yet another opportunity to paint pictures in the minds of our audience. The supplies that you have to work with are words. Which words will you use in your next speech?