Intellectual property can be some of the most valuable assets your business has – and yes, your presentation does come into that. You wouldn’t think twice about protecting any other property you own, so why not it? Erika Rykun from thecopywriter.io shows us how. (Please note that where there are legal implications, the author has based this article on US copyright law – check the rules for your own location for the finer details that relate to your situation.)
Presentations are a crucial part of various industries. Presentations can be used by public speakers, salespeople, marketing teams, startups pitching to investors – to name but a few. If your presentation is comprised of original material (as it should be), protecting it as intellectual property is not only your right, it’s a very sensible move.
I’ll give an example. Let’s say you have a public presentation on business marketing strategies, full of original ideas and research. Somebody copies what you’re saying during the presentation, almost word-for-word, into a blog article, because it’s an easy method of beating Google plagiarism detection.
If your presentation is copyrighted, they’ve violated it by creating a transcription of your presentation. Even if they changed up the words and paraphrased bits of what you were saying in the presentation, they’ve created a derivative work, which is also a copyright violation.
Even if your presentation is copyrighted, it’s still your job to protect it against violations. There’s no shortage of people willing to blatantly plagiarise content online, and only very, very rich companies can hire legal teams to scour the web for copyright violations on their behalf.
Protecting your presentation is possible, but how can it be done?
It’s actually really quite simple.
Your presentation is copyrighted at the exact moment you create it, especially if it incorporates tangible things like graphics and logos. A creative work becomes copyrighted the instant it is written down, or fixed in some other tangible form (e.g. a video recording, etc.). In that case, it’s going to be no different than practicing standard cybersecurity procedures and protecting your data online.
So with that said, protecting your presentation boils down to a matter of security. This is assuming your presentation is made of digital files and only shared with people you choose, because if your presentation is used in public speaking, protecting it is a completely different ballgame. Protecting a public presentation has many nuances under copyright law, which we will look at later in this article, but for now we will focus mainly on the methods of protecting a private presentation, like a slideshow to be shared with business partners. Some are simpler to apply than others. It really is a question of how much protection you want – or need. Some of the methods given may also help to protect a public presentation, such as watermarking images and uploading transcripts of a public speech.
1) Use the copyright symbol
It’s really quite easy to use the copyright symbol, but it’s a little more involved than just copying the © symbol into a document. Check out the link I just gave for a lot more information on the recommended usage of the copyright symbol, and best practices for inserting it.
2) Restrict access in the program settings
In a number of Office programs, there are settings to restrict access to edit the document. Unfortunately, this only protects people from editing the document, not viewing it. A screenshot capture software basically defeats this, right? But if you only want to prevent people from making changes to your presentation, this does the trick.
In Office programs, you can also click the “Mark as Final” button, which will automatically lock the document from edits, but not viewing.
Neither of these are solutions to ensuring a document’s privacy, they will simply protect a document from accidental changes, because users must opt-in to edit the document. If this restriction is bypassed, it’s possible to restore a previous version in File > Browse version history (in Office 2016 – 2019).
3) Keep your files on a secure cloud account
A cloud account is a good, safe way of being able to digitally store your files while being able to access them from various devices, as long as you practice strong password security. You’ll want to find a cloud service provider that offers presentation-friendly features, such as link-sharing the presentation while locking it against edits and downloads.
4) Keep it on an encrypted drive
If you’re the only person accessing your presentation, keep the files on an encrypted USB drive. This will prevent it from being stolen in any cyber attack on your hard drive storage, and even if you lose the USB drive, it’s encrypted which prevents it from being attached to any new devices without the decryption key. If this sounds like too much to digest, consider checking basic cybersecurity training for a better overall idea of how it all works.
To expand on this, you can set multiple layers of encryption and password-protection, such as encrypting the portable drive, then placing the file behind further layers of password-locked folders. This is starting to sound like spy novel stuff, yeah? Hey, it’s your copyright we’re trying to protect. It’s not like I said keep the USB drive in a glass case surrounded by a wall of security laser beams – but that wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
5) Add a watermark to your presentation
This is such a ‘duh’ step, you were probably wondering when we would mention it. But yes, watermarks can certainly protect any original graphics you use in your presentation, including the slides themselves.
Watermark placement is really tricky though. If it’s too far in the corner, it can easily be cropped out. If it’s over a solid colour or certain types of photos, it can easily be photoshopped out. If you slap a huge, bold watermark over the middle of your presentation, you look like Shutterstock.
Trust me, there are no limits people will go to try and photoshop out the watermarks on Disneyland Photopass, so watermark placement is fairly crucial if you’re seriously trying to protect your original images. In any case, a subtly transparent logo somewhere near the middle isn’t too bad, if it’s transparent enough to not detract from the image or slide, but still counts as a watermark.
6) Obtain a digital signature from Microsoft
This is again assuming you’re working with Microsoft Office products, but don’t worry open-source aficionados, there’s a way to do it in LibreOffice, it’s just a bit trickier and not as automated.
In any case, a digital signature will protect your document by adding a certification that says whether the file is original or a copy and if it has been altered. It’s a step-by-step process and it’s best to consult Office documentation on how to proceed, but it’s a useful feature. It basically proves that a file originated from your programme, which would be the final nail in the coffin of any copyright dispute, to your benefit.
For users of other presentation software not maintained by Microsoft, such as LibreOffice or Google Slides, the processes for digital signature are a little different as far as obtaining add-ons to perform this functionality, but it’s still entirely possible to do. Here is a guide on adding digital signatures in LibreOffice.
7) Upload a transcript of your presentation
If your presentation is part of a public speech, and you don’t want people writing what you say word-for-word, upload your own transcript of the presentation on the web, in plain text format. It’s recommended to do this on your own server, though you could also copy it into the About section on a YouTube video.
If you have a presentation, know that YouTube may automatically add captions (which aren’t 100% accurate), but they’re technically accurate enough for a dedicated plagiariser to rip the SRT file from the video, then re-organise the captions into paragraphs. By adding your own transcription, it becomes a bit easier to search the web for plagiarism.
When Google indexes your transcription, you can search for quoted bits of the transcript in Google search, and see if anyone basically copy-pasted your entire presentation into a blog article. You do this by searching in quotation marks, which will return any pages that contain the exact words in quotation marks. This won’t help you find derivative (paraphrased) content, but it will help you find word-for-word plagiarism of spoken words.
8) Register your copyright
As mentioned above, creative works are automatically copyrighted the moment they are fixed to tangible media. However, simply owning a copyright does not enable you to bring an infringement action. You must file an application for copyright registration before you can sue someone for copyright infringement.
Registering your copyright before or within 5 years of publication will also establish sufficient evidence in court concerning the validity of your copyright, as well as entitling you to statutory damages and attorney fees in federal court. If your copyright is not registered, you can only sue for actual damages and profits, which are made more difficult to prove without registration.
Without a copyright registration, you can still file DMCA notices and send cease-and-desist letters to copyright infringers, but as far as bringing an actual lawsuit against anyone for copyright infringement, your options will be fairly limited. Always remember that the onus of proving copyright ownership is on the owner, so registering your copyright serves as certifiable proof that you are indeed the copyright holder.
Protecting a public presentation
As I mentioned earlier, protecting a public presentation can be rather more complicated. Here are a couple of situations to show you what I mean:
One example of copyrighted public presentations would be TED conference videos like TED Talks. TED typically owns the copyrights to transcripts and videos of conference talks, not the individual speakers, as part of agreements between the speakers and TED Foundation. But again, these are copyrighted presentations, including the transcripts.
Quoting or using snippets of a TED Talks presentation may be used under the Creative Commons license by non-profit organisations, but not used for commercial / for-profit purposes without express permission from TED Foundation.
“I Have a Dream”
Another example is public speeches, depending on circumstance. It’s a bit nuanced, but generally speaking, a public speech is protected by copyright if it is fixed in a tangible medium, meaning the speaker wrote down their speech before delivering it, or authorised a recording of the speech.
Where this becomes nuanced is whether the speech is being delivered by a government employee (speeches from U.S. government employees are typically public domain), and whether the speaker has any reasonable rights to privacy (e.g. was admission charged for the presentation?).
One example here would be Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King registered his speech with the U.S. Copyright Office, and the copyright is valid until 2038. This is why it’s nearly impossible to find a full, unedited version of the speech on video sites like YouTube. The copyright itself has been challenged several times over the years, but has stood up in every case.
What makes the “I Have a Dream” speech a bit unique in its copyright is that Martin Luther King, Jr. did not register his speech with the copyright office until after he had already delivered the speech. This was an issue because publication does not preclude copyright under the 1909 Copyright Act at the time, and so had MLK registered his speech prior to performing it, there would have been no issues.
However, the courts ruled that his speech was a performance, and not a general publication, an important distinction in copyright prior to the Copyright Act of 1976. This is because a general publication implies dedication to the public, and thus would have rendered the speech to the public domain. But the judge ruled that simply performing a work in public does not render it a “publication”, and because King distributed copies to the press instead of the general public, his speech was a “limited publication” which afforded King statutory protection.
The issue was raised in 1998, after CBS aired over 60% of the “I Have a Dream” speech in a historical documentary series. The Estate of Dr. King brought suit against CBS, and the judge ruling the case found that the speech was “the poster child for general publication”, due to its widespread dissemination and performance, and granted summary judgement to CBS. However, the Estate of Dr. King appealed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the judge’s decision was reversed. The 11th Circuit ruled that public performance alone, no matter how widespread, does not render something to the public domain.
As you can see, there is a clear difference between protecting a private presentation intended to be shared with a few individuals, and a public presentation. The former revolves around basic security practices and preventing your presentation files from falling into the wrong hands, while the latter requires diligence in tracking down copyright violations, in which case you may need to consider paying into a copyright monitoring service.