Who owns the intellectual property when a speaker presents at a conference?

Opinions solicited and compiled by Julian Vearncombe

First published in AIG NEWS 2012

At the recent Kalgoorlie 2012 meeting the organisers chose to not distribute PowerPoints and forbade the recording (visual and sound) of presentations. Any delegate wishing to have a copy of a talk could ask the author, but authors were under no obligation to distribute their PowerPoint. This policy was motivated (1) to preserve author intellectual property (IP) and (2) because it is more or less impossible to get complete PowerPoints from authors unless you copy the PowerPoint off the presentation computer. What followed has been a spirited debate.

Are delegates and society members entitled to see, hear and copy every conference presentation in its entirety? The conference is over, but who owns the presentation now? Is reading a PowerPoint the same as reading an abstract or paper? Can a professional society like the AIG do better than just make more information available?

Below are solicited comments on the topic of distributing PowerPoint’s and the recording of talks at symposia.

Comment by Andrew Waltho, Rio Tinto

Professional development and the role of the AIG to disseminate information

My comments should be construed as my own view, not that of Rio Tinto, and they relate mainly to approaches on this adopted by AIG in recent times.

Speakers at conferences, and authors of papers published in scientific journals or publications produced by professional institutes and learned societies play an important role in advancing knowledge in their respective fields.  It´s a fundamental aspect of any field of scientific endeavour, that new ideas and techniques are presented to workers in any scientific discipline.  At the end of the day, this is how discoveries are made, by new insight being applied to existing data with positive outcomes.  Presenting observations and ideas is an important aspect of continued professional development (CPD), as is being exposed to those observations and ideas by attending presentations.  Reading papers, and engaging in skills development and improvement also constitute CPD.

AIG sees continued professional development by members as ¨core business¨.  The Institute puts considerable effort into creating opportunities for members.  Almost all AIG organized activities, from after work talks, through one-day seminars and field workshops to multiday conferences have a CPD component.  Even informal networking before or after a more formal meeting can deliver a surprising amount of relevant insight and knowledge that participants can apply in the course of their professional activities.  AIG also provides members access to structured training through a number of avenues, such as AIG´s EduMine campus and workshops organized either directly by state branch committees or partnerships with commercial providers.  The Institute is actively seeking to add to its handbook series of publications and provides members with several other avenues for publishing articles on both technical and professional practice issues via the AIG web site, its print newsletter AIG News, or its on-line journal (which is being resurrected at the moment and will be back on line during November 2012).

Technology provides a means of delivering CPD in a number of innovative ways.  EduMine  is a good example, where students are able to engage in structured training whenever and wherever they have an opportunity (and an internet connection).  Video recordings of presentations are also becoming popular amongst members who are unable to attend presentations in person, or want to revisit a presentation that attended in the past.  For example, the plenary session presentations from both the 34th IGC held earlier this year in Brisbane and the 33rd IGC held in Oslo are available for viewing on-line.  AIG has a number of video recordings of conference and seminar presentations on its web site, some with coordinated PowerPoint presentations, or a new, dedicated YouTube channel, which deliver benefits to members who make presentations or view them subsequently.  I think its only a matter of time before we see virtual conferences, where attendees can view presentations on line, hear the speaker and be able to participate in asking questions.  The American Geological Institute has run a number of meetings using this format and EduMine regularly holds workshops and training courses delivered in this manner.

Preserving intellectual property and maintaining copyright are important considerations.  Recordings are only made with the consent of the presenter.  There have been cases in the past where AIG has arranged for an entire one day seminar involving a dozen or so presentations where one or two presenters have requested that their presentations not be recorded, which is a request that conference organizers should reasonably accept.    Similarly, attendees at conferences can be reasonably asked not to photograph PowerPoints shown on screen, or even video-record entire presentations for private use.  It´s entirely reasonable for owners of intellectual property to wish to preserve their rights, although there is frequently a desire to promote IP as a source of enhanced capability or service delivery by consultants and other service providers.  There may be occasions where conference organizers feel that a presenter, or potential presenter, feels that proposed presentations are overtly commercial, in which case they may elect not to accept an abstract or exclude a presentation from a publication derived from a seminar or conference, but have an obligation to state clearly why this is being done.  Personally, overtly commercial presentations are clearly seen for what they are by seminar and conference attendees who are best placed to decide themselves how to use the information they have received.  In many respects, developers of concepts and ideas gain from promoting their knowledge and skill in applying new techniques, and become associated with the concept by doing so by potential clients.  This is a very effective means of commercializing a concept, and protecting the underlying IP by becoming acknowledged as a developer.

There should be no issue in companies in attempting to promote services through technical papers.  Publishers have the right to refuse any paper or presentation that they believe does not meet editorial guidelines.  There is a distinct difference between a technical publication and an advertisement.  All papers submitted for publication or presentation at a seminar or conference are subject to peer review prior to publication or in establishing the seminar program, and will certainly be peer reviewed by an informed audience if they are not.  Publications and presentations that form part of the proceedings for a seminar or conference can contain links to an external web site where products and services are promoted commercially, but in this instance the referral is clearly provided by the author, not the publisher and it should not be viewed as promotion of a business or endorsement of a product or service by the publisher.

Copyright is an important protection for authors, who need to consent to their work being published, and whose work needs to be acknowledged.  Republished materials should always include full attribution of the source of the material.  It is quite common for newsletters to reproduce articles from kindred society publications where this is an important principle that should always be adhered to.

AIG, in common with other professional institutes and learned societies, is frequently asked to assist in the promotion and endorsement of events and other services by companies.  This is rarely forthcoming, and only occurs if the proposal passes a test involving assessment of the benefit to members (through new knowledge or discounted services) and the quality of what is being offered, where clear benefits must be evident.  The same test is applied to event sponsors and even advertisers in AIG News.

In summary, I believe that presenters are in a strong position when it comes to protection of how their intellectual property is presented.  Conference and seminar conveners and publishers also have a right to control how material contributed is disseminated, but also have an obligation to ensure presenters are aware of the arrangements in place for the event.  Improvements in communication and information distribution are clearly changing the nature of how scientific information is distributed, and the tools for this available to professional institutes and learned scientific societies who have this as a core responsibility to their members.

Comment by Neil Phillips, Phillipsgold and Editor Applied Earth Science (Transactions) journal

Speaker intellectual property is just that

Conference talks and peer-reviewed scientific papers both have their role in our profession but they have significantly different roles. If a geologist is seeking an efficient way to access a large amount of high quality data and ideas, written papers are an efficient avenue. The same amount of data in a conference talk would be a boring affair if it was presented as page after page of written material on PowerPoint slides. Conference talks need to be more than pages of information; think of those memorable talks that you can recall a year or a decade later. They have an element of entertainment, of interest, of enquiry, or surprise and maybe a message to take away and apply the next day. In contrast, one does not start a scientific paper expecting laughs or entertainment; the lasting classic paper has a depth of intellectual content where the reader is enriched by the thoughts contributed by the writer. A classic scientific paper, in my opinion, should be timeless, contain quality data, display logical arguments with conclusions that follow from the data. Naturally with later equipment or techniques or data, new and differing conclusions might become appropriate but these revisions do not then make the paper ‘bad’. However, no one would suggest that these last three sentences represent an apt description of a conference presentation. Conferences are a valid forum to try out new ideas; better to be politely corrected at Kalgoorlie or even aggressively made to look silly, than put the idea up in lights in Nature without peer-testing and find it is basically wrong.

Conference talks and scientific papers are important ways for associations to offer professional development for members. However, I question whether we are doing our profession a service by saying to members ‘here, take the conference presentation and read through the slides’. I would suggest that we do our professional colleagues, and ourselves, more benefit by discussing conference presentations amongst ourselves, and even being prompted to go off and read the papers behind the talk. It is not difficult to access published papers and explore in more depth some of the concepts and ideas covered in a conference. Professional associations would be providing a better service by listing the scientific papers that supplement the talks, making them available via speakers, and encouraging members to read them. I know from teaching Honours and postgraduate classes for half a lifetime that their reading skills are not good, and a professional association might help here. Every year I have students and young graduates complain that they could not possibly read what I ask them to cover, indicating to me that some of them spend up to five hours on a modest paper. I change the frame and tell them that they have five minutes, and they end up comprehending MORE in those five minutes. Years later, some report that it is the insight into reading where they gained most.

Associations can mandate that speaker intellectual property will be given away at their conference, but they will meet (not so) unexpected consequences. Why would speakers provide their latest ideas in slides at Kalgoorlie if this meant that they could no longer publish those ideas in Nature or some other notable journal that might enhance their reputation internationally?

Comment by Tom Blenkinsop, James Cook University and Editor Journal of Structural Geology

New vs. Old Science: a journal editor’s perspective

The concepts and data in many, if not most, peer-reviewed publications are presented at conferences before or close to the time of publication. This is a sensitive stage for authors: unless their publication is accepted, their new ideas can potentially be used by anyone in the audience, though this would be risky in the closely knit world of leading researchers: many will have a shrewd insight into where the new science is coming from. No academic about to publish in a conventional journal would be comfortable with making their new research openly available in detail, comprising, for example, georeferenced maps, cross-sections or geochemical analyses.

Publishers and editors are taking a much more stringent line today about the integrity and innovation of research that is submitted to peer-reviewed journals. It is common for journals to require authors to state clearly that the research is not published or submitted for publication elsewhere, and both reviewers and editors are likely to check other publications with similar sounding titles before acceptance. Many journals would be confortable that material has previously been published as a short abstract (1 page), but even an extended abstract can raise questions. Publishers naturally try to gain reputations for innovative science, exclusivity and quality. Making research publicly available will inevitably conflict with the commercial aims of the journal. Even open access journals, such as PLOS, insist on original work. They will accept work presented at conferences, and PLOS will also accept manuscripts that have been deposited in “preprint servers” such as arXiv, where, subject to a few checks and moderation, but no peer review, authors can upload their manuscripts. However, from the point of view of most journals, making research freely available, such as a detailed conference presentation, could compromise the goal of publishing new science.

Comment by Jun Cowan, Orefind

A way to publicise useful information

Apart from the networking opportunities conferences bring, what is the main reason why geologists attend conferences such as the recently held AIG’s Structural Geology and Resources 2012 symposium?  One word - Information.

Whether you are a geologist from academia, consulting company or from mineral resource company, the reason why we attend these conferences is the same.  We are seeking and also disseminating new information. We are eager to learn new techniques, hear about new discoveries and catch up on new developments.

One of the primary aims of the AIG is to disseminate information through education, and organising conferences is part of AIG’s mandate.  AIG is an organisation serving a very practical group of geologists actively working in the exploration and mining industry, and the membership is always seeking practical solutions to real problems.  Consultants, like us, are happy to provide useful information that will benefit many.  Sometimes we do this for free at conferences (e.g. giving away our PowerPoint presentations), and other times we charge our fee.  A major part of AIG’s responsibility is education.  Consequently the connection of people who seek information with those who are willing to provide useful information is a very simple and easy way of fulfilling this role.  The more interaction we have with each other, the richer we become as an organisation, and we evolve and learn faster as a group.

Unfortunately at the above-mentioned symposium, a minority of AIG members hijacked this information dissemination process and managed to effectively shut it down.  Some geologists are apparently uneasy about disseminating useful information that membership is seeking, and fear getting ideas stolen by some happy snapper in the crowd!  There is a simple way to address this concern - DO NOT PRESENT YOUR IDEAS IN PUBLIC!  If you are seriously concerned about this issue, please make sure you publish your research first, then present it in a public forum, not the other way around.

Companies stick by this rule.  Consultants understand this.  Inventors working on patents are obsessive about this rule, but some geologists do not seem to understand the concept of self-censorship.

Information is king, and the AIG needs to wake up to the current century and what is going on around us. The Google search engine revolution over the last ten years is all about the dissemination of information, and this has empowered and allowed instant connection of individuals from far reaches of the globe to any one of us.  This was simply not possible even ten years ago, and this has implications for future AIG conferences.

 Consider this.  At this symposium we paid thousands of dollars to sponsor the event, and we talked to perhaps 50 people at most who visited our booth during the three days of the symposium.  We can easily achieve this many visitors to our website well within a day, from all over the world at little or no cost.  The interaction occurs 24/7, and not just during coffee and lunch breaks over three days.  The economic attractiveness of sponsoring a conference of this kind is therefore diminishing very rapidly, and clearly it is the last century way of doing marketing.  The fact that information cannot be disseminated easily to AIG members because of intellectual property concerns further adds to the frustration.  The business opportunities presented by traditional conferences are simply dying out right before our eyes, just like the free-to air TVs and printed newspapers.  Conferences simply need to evolve to be relevant, and AIG needs to wake up and smell the roses of opportunity instead of fearing the new information age.

Ten years from now, the conference scene is not going to look like what it is now.  Instant interaction with the audience OUTSIDE of the conference venue is likely to be normal.  Sharing images, movies and PowerPoints will be normal.  Live translations to multiple languages are probably going to be possible.   If you do not share information, the audiences, and the presenter, are simply going to miss out on the benefits.

I ask that the AIG evolve and become an information hub to keep up with the times and still be relevant to the membership.  The AIG could embrace this and be a place where professional geologists meet up to share information both at conferences, but also virtually between conferences.  The two need not be separate events, as information could be added post-conference and evolve over the Internet. 

Those who fear the future will always be with us, but please don’t hold the rest of us back because of a few!

Comment by Wayne Spilsbury

A possible solution

My personal opinion (not AIG policy) is that all authors should provide a short abstract of their presentation. I don’t think this will jeopardize the author’s ability to publish their research in a peer-reviewed publication. I do not think we can demand that author’s provide copies of their PowerPoints for access to all AIG members via the AIG website. PowerPoints may not be IP in the legal sense but one’s creative efforts should not be available for copying by all and sundry UNLESS the author grants permission. Furthermore I agree with Geoscientist Symposia’s rule of no recording devices during the presentations. AIG may decide to video presentations but again I would make this subject to the author’s permission.

For more about author IP please contact Geoscientists Symposia Vearncombe at training@geosymposia.com

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