Plagiarism Week: Pilfered Presentations


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.

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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
  • Rehearse
  • 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.

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14 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Brent,

    You write that you don’t like it, when your slides are represented without any permission for you – sounds ok (like slides from SQLCruise etc.).

    What do you think, when people are creating their own slidedecks with know-how they got at different conferences/trainings and creating their own unique slidedeck that incorporates know-how from many different conferences/trainings?



    • Not Brent but…

      What you describe there is research. Learning, incorporating, understanding, then producing original work.

      Again, not Brent, but if I hadn’t attended lot of sessions at various conferences, had some training and read a hell of a lot of blogs, books, etc, I wouldn’t be in a position where I could present at conferences as I wouldn’t know enough about the material to do so.

      • Yeah, I agree with Gail. I encourage people to do presentations using what they’ve learned from me PLUS their real life experiences. If they just try to give presentations without real world knowledge, they’ll fail as soon as someone asks a question.

        This is how some training classes work when they’re taught by full time trainers who have no practical hands-on experience, too…

        • I believe teaching and presenting are two different skills, with some overlap undoubtedly – a good teacher has to have good presentation skills, but am not too sure if it is 100 percent true the othe way around. When you present in conferences or in user groups you are *sharing* your knowledge and experience, and answering questions as they come up – it is not your job to ensure everyone in the audience has understood or has a grasp on the material. A teacher’s job on the other hand is to ensure every question everyone has is answered including those who don’t speak up much. I have met some great teachers who have good grasp on the material and defer what they do not know to links/websites or in some cases even to more experienced students. Teachers most commonly use authorised material and do not plagiarise 🙂 Sometimes we have to rely on such training given low cost and to learn an entirely new technology. Just my two cents. thanks.

  • Although I’ve never used other people’s presentations, I have given permission to others to reuse portions of my presentations as long as they include attribution. The presentation material comes from talks I’ve given at user groups, SQL Saturdays or Code Camps and do not copyright issues associated with their reuse. The way I see it, I do not have the time or budget to deliver the presentation myself so allowing others to use my material is the next best thing. Of note, the book Building Technical Communities which is given to all new UG leaders mentions re-delivering presentations and UG kits often include canned presentations. Again, this isn’t something I would do, but don’t have any with less experienced folks reusing my material with permission and attribution:

  • If you haven’t, you should write on how you got started in doing presentations. I looked through the writing and presenting section but didn’t see anything like that.

  • In one of your latest presentations, I see you used two photos from Flicker. One falls under CC by-nc-sa and the other under by-sa.

    First question: are you sure you can use the first one when you actually get paid for presenting at a conference? It’s marked for “Non Commercial” use and the license states that “You may not use this work for commercial purposes”.

    Second question: both photos falls under the “Share Alike” clause which states that “If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.”. So are you sure you can ask people not to use it as-is to be re-delivered?

    Third question: relates to both cases, are you sure you have the right to sell rights to conference makers?

    Sorry Brent, I really think you should consider a bit more carefully the whole thing. When I do a presentation under CC it’s simply goes to be public and I’m actually happy if other people use it as-is to do a presentation. Especially if they remember to honor the license and give the attribution.

    If you think this shouldn’t be done because you spent too much time on it and want something back, something which is absolutely legit, you should simply use another kind of licensing and check it works with using images under CC.

    As I hinted in another comment, you get a lot of karma from the Interwebs by putting up your creative-commons hat but you can’t eat your cake and have it.

    • Waldorf – great questions, and yes, I do indeed check the CC licenses differently when I’m paid to present. The only times I’ve ever been paid to present have been at Microsoft TechEd and at private pre-conference sessions, and in both cases I’ve only used images that were cleared for commercial use. Thanks for mentioning that – you’re the first person I know of who’s paid as much attention to that licensing as I have! It feels good to do the right thing.

  • I know it’s not the most exciting stuff to write about but thanks for sharing your experiences with plagiarism this week. I would never think to re-give another persons presentation as my own so I would not think that someone else would. Great posts and I hope you don’t get discouraged to much about it.

  • I’ll make sure and put “Stolen from Brent’s Blog” the next time that I take something from you, in APA or Chicago format, of course. That OK dude? LOL


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