Do you need speaker contracts for webcasts or virtual courses?



Contracts with speakers establish rights to the presentation, limit an organization's liability, and minimize the risk of cancellation. But in this age of webcasts, virtual courses, and other Web-based education programs, do we need them?

More than ever. When groups conduct educational programs or republish course materials on the Web, the audience is substantially larger than with an on-site event. The more people you reach, the more valuable the presentation, and the more likely a third party will read and perhaps rely on the content.

As a result, organizations should have written agreements with anyone providing content for, or participating in, their virtual presentations. The liability that arises does not involve novel legal theories, but new applications of existing law.

Everyone Gets a Contract

Enter into an agreement with everyone who plans to participate in your virtual program, and have it signed before the broadcast or publication. Address compensation as well as authorize the organization to use the presentation for certain purposes.

Make the agreement as broad as possible. Even if you plan a single webcast, consider getting rights to rebroadcast the program and/or to sell materials generated from it. Presenters are more likely to grant rights up front, and it can be burdensome to have multiple agreements for the same presentation.

Get representations regarding content. First, presenters should state that their programs do not raise liability concerns; that the material is accurate, has not been plagiarized, and does not disparage any person, product, or service. Second, you may want presenters to agree that programs will be educational rather than promotional. The speaker should support the representations with an agreement to indemnify the organization from damages resulting from a breach of those representations.

Protect Yourself from No-Shows

The last thing you want is an interactive, Web-based program with no one to lead it! Agreements for “personal services” can't force a presenter to perform, but an organization can deter cancellation by including language requiring the presenter to pay a predetermined fee or, at a minimum, provide a substitute.

The Web's broader audience has prompted some presenters to look closely at their rights. The professional who has agreed to speak at your meeting may hesitate to grant Internet rights. The concern is that if many people have access to the presentation materials (and download ability), the presentation's value is diminished. Sophisticated presenters look for representations from the group, usually in the form of a copyright notice, that indicate the organization will do its part to protect their speakers' rights.

Most important, determine what terms are necessary to protect your interests and which of the presenter's conditions you are willing to accept. Make sure the agreement accurately reflects your understanding of the terms. Then sit back and watch the show!




Jed R. Mandel is a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, where he heads the trade and professional association practice.

Take Out

  1. Make the agreement as broad as possible — Consider obtaining rights to rebroadcast the program and/or to sell materials generated from it.

  2. Get representations regarding content — Presenters should state that their material is accurate, has not been plagiarized, and does not disparage any person, product, or service.

  3. Determine what terms are necessary to protect you interests — Make sure the agreement accurately reflects your understanding of the terms.