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In the Rush to Get Your Meeting Online, Don't Forget the Fine Print

Virtual meetings come with a unique set of legal questions. Consider these issues related to attendees, speakers, sponsors, and platform providers.

In the face of coronavirus stay-at-home orders, organizations are pivoting their live meetings to virtual platforms at breakneck speed. While the flexibility to quickly re-imagine these events has been impressive, legal considerations should not be forgotten in the rush.

Meetings legal expert Joshua Grimes, an attorney with Grimes Law Offices, LLC in Philadelphia, has been thinking about the terms and conditions that need to be clarified with four virtual meetings constituencies—attendees, sponsors, speakers, and tech-platform providers.

Virtual meeting attendees should sign off on terms and conditions just like they would for a physical meeting, and that includes a code of conduct, Grimes says, especially if they can contribute to the meeting via audio or a text-chat function. Spell out behavior that’s not permitted, including unlawful harassment or derogatory comments. This would also be the place, says Grimes, to include rules around attire or other expectations.

• Virtual attendees should also be informed about how the meeting material is going to be used. If attendees’ voices, images, or comments will be captured, they need to sign a release in case the content will be rebroadcast or repurposed in any way, Grimes says. How the material will be used should be made clear, and attendees should check off a box when they register that acknowledges that they understand.

• The terms and conditions should also ask attendees to agree that they won’t reproduce and distribute the presentations.

• If the virtual event includes attendees on camera, the organizer may want to limit their ability to use photos as backgrounds. “With some frequency, people use images that are not theirs,” Grimes notes. “Your organization could be asked to pay a fee if you’ve broadcast a copyrighted image.”

Sponsors and Exhibitors
As they pivot from live meetings to virtual meetings, some groups are attempting to roll over sponsorship and exhibitor dollars from one medium to the other, but it’s important to clarify what the new environment provides. “The question,” says Grimes, “is ‘what are you giving the sponsors or exhibitors?’”

• Are they given a particular assurance of exposure?
• Will their names be mentioned or logo displayed during the online event?
• Will they have an opportunity to say something?
• Will attendees be able to download their contact information, white paper, or other materials?

Grimes cautions planners to avoid guaranteeing a particular number of participants—particularly if the event has no online history. Additionally, the sponsorship or exhibitor agreements should be written so that the group is not liable if a technical glitch results in a sponsor’s name or logo failing to appear. “Things can happen, and groups don’t want to have to start giving back money,” Grimes notes.

Organizations should be clear about how they intend to broadcast, rebroadcast, and repurpose the virtual meeting content and convey that to their speakers, who need to sign off on how their presentation will be used. Speakers who have a copyright on their presentations should give the group a license to use the material in whatever manner has been agreed upon.

Planners typically do the same thing for live events, but this step may be more critical in a virtual environment, which can live on in many forms. “You don’t want your speaker coming back and saying that they only gave you permission for the live event and that the group is distributing the content in violation of the copyright,” Grimes says.

Tech-Platform Providers
The contract with your virtual meeting provider should clarify technical and production issues at the heart of the event experience. To have the full picture, the contract should:
• Explain what the event will look like. What features are provided and how will attendees access and navigate them?
• Clarify how much the system will cost.

• Guarantee that presenters won’t be portrayed in a negative light (with, for example, the wrong graphics).
• Make assurances about the quality of the transmission and clarify what happens if there are problems.

• Guarantee the security of the broadcast. If an unauthorized copy of the event is released, what then?
• Assign responsibility for GDPR privacy compliance if personal data will be transmitted through the platform.
• Clarify who owns the broadcast and who can grant rights for reproducing it.

Music & Video Licensing
As if all these issues aren’t enough, Grimes has one final piece of advice to keep virtual events out of legal troubles: “If you use music as part of your virtual meeting, you may need a license from ASCAP, BMI, or one of the other performing rights organizations. The music license you need for broadcasting is different from the one you have for physical meetings. The same applies for commercial videos; licenses should be requested from the video owners or their agents.”

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