I’m angry when people steal my blog posts. I’m bummed when people give away pirated PDF copies of our book. But the very worst feeling for me is when someone steals my presentations.
I pour dozens of hours into each of my 45-60 minute sessions. For every single one, I have to:
- Write the story
- Build the slide deck
- Pick just the right images and properly attribute them under Creative Commons
- Take product screenshots or write demo code
- Build a resources page on my site
- Rehearse some more
- Give the presentation at the local level, figure out what works and what didn’t, tweak the slide deck to refine it, and then start the rehearsal process again
- Eventually build up to presenting it at the national level
Some national conferences require me to upload my slide deck ahead of time, and every time I do it, I cringe. I would love for every attendee to be able to use my slides as a set of notes for later reminders, but I’m terrified because of what plagiarists do with my slides. Yes, people actually re-give my presentations, and I’m not the only one who’s fallen victim. Here’s what you need to know before you submit an abstract to a conference:
Read the recording rights in the speaker contract. When you present at a major conference, you sign a speaker contract with that conference that gives the conference organizers certain rights. Most conferences record video or audio of your session, and you need to be aware of what happens with those recordings afterward. Some conferences like TechEd and SQLBits give the recordings away for free on the web, and some conferences like the PASS Summit sell the recordings. If you pour a lot of time into building a session, and then people can view it for free over the web, you’ll have a tough time selling that content yourself later. People will be less likely to pay for a pre-con session if they can get that same material for free online.
Find out if “recording” includes transcription posting rights. Some conferences have different ideas of what the word “recording” means. I’ve worked with one conference that decided to take transcriptions of my session and publish them as separate articles on their web site. That would have been okay with me if they’d have taken the time to use a spell checker and to polish the articles, but here’s what the article ended up looking like:
“Perfmon is real important. As you can see here on the scren, when the Disck Reads metric is above this numbur, evertyhing is fine, but when it’s below this, pick your job up off the floor and…”
Since the article had my name on it, I was horrified, and I asked the conference to take it down immediately. I volunteered to clean the article up myself at no charge because I’d rather lose money and look good than ignore it and look stupid. Thankfully, they agreed to take it down period, but I learned my lesson – I won’t sign another speaker agreement that allows the conference to post transcriptions that I haven’t been able to approve ahead of time.
Find out if “recording” includes the slides. One conference’s contract includes the PowerPoint deck as part of the recording, then says the conference can do anything they want with the recording. You have to read between the lines to figure out that this includes the ability to do anything they want with your slide deck, including taking your identifying information out and letting other people re-present your presentation! Over the last couple of weeks, Adam Machanic, Gail Shaw, and I have been engaged in a struggle with a particular conference’s organizers. The conference took previously presented decks, gave them to other presenters, and let them re-present the material. I’m not going to name the conference because they’re working with us to improve how they handle ownership of presentations, thank goodness. The frustrating part is that I had to repeatedly explain to the conference organizers just how bad this would be for their image if it became public.
Ideally, know your rights even before you submit an abstract. Some conferences will honor your requests for changes, but only if you make that a part of your abstract submission. Having gone through the above messes, I know that certain conference organizers want me to say “This presentation and abstract is copyright Brent Ozar, and no rights are transferable to anyone else without my express written permission ahead of time.” I’m frustrated that I have to even tell them that, but it is what it is, and if I don’t include that in the abstract then I may have to back out of the conference later when the speaker contract arrives.
Decide when you’re willing to let presentations go to the public. For certain events, I give attendees my PowerPoint slides because I want them to re-deliver my presentations. I want my SQLCruise attendees to take their new-found knowledge back to the office, then give the presentations to their coworkers. Their boss will see the value gained by sending someone on the cruise, and then hopefully pay for the attendee to return each year. However, I make it really clear to the attendees that they’re not allowed to present these decks in public or to user groups. For other events, I build decks knowing full well that they’ve got an expiration date – I won’t ever be able to attract as many in-person viewers once the presentation is available on the web for free.
Share PDF copies of your presentation, not the PowerPoint original. When attendees and conferences want copies of your slide decks, don’t give them the PPTX files. Give them an exported PDF copy of the slides, which is good enough for people who need to verify that you’ve got content ready or want to take notes. When people insist on getting the PowerPoint slides, ask them why, and don’t be satisfied with brush-off answers. You’re the content owner – take control of your content.
Set up Google Alerts for your presentation titles and abstracts. It really bums me out to even have to type that, but the reality is that plagiarism isn’t going away. When you get a hit, politely approach the speaker and ask, “I see that you’re presenting on The Top 10 Ways to Make Microsoft Access Stop Sucking. That sounds a lot like a presentation I did last month, and I’d love to hear more about your ideas.” When a speaker truly didn’t know about your presentation, they’ll be excited to bounce ideas off you. On the other hand, if they were planning on plagiarizing your work, they’ll adjust their plans accordingly. If they don’t respond in a way that gives you the warm-and-fuzzies, email the conference organizers and give them a heads-up.
Finally, don’t use copyrighted material in your own presentations. Movie pictures, album covers, and other people’s photos are generally off-limits. Instead, use my post on Finding Free Pictures for Blog Posts and Presentations.