The Internet is an integral part of today's meeting industry. But because the technology has become so common many professionals do not follow basic precautions. A few steps can help to make the Internet a better tool for meeting planners:

Idea Theft

The unique ideas for theme parties, events, and other services in your proposals are protected by U.S. intellectual property laws, but idea theft is nevertheless a real issue. It takes two forms: A prospective client takes a concept and uses it without hiring the planner; or the client passes the idea to others without the planner's permission. This problem didn't start with the Internet, but the ease of online communication makes it worse.

There is no way to completely protect your ideas, but some simple measures can help. First, send ideas over the Internet only to clients and prospects who have a reputation for fair dealing. Second, place a copyright symbol (©) and your name on every document sent to a client with original ideas. Third, add a statement to your proposal declaring that all ideas are proprietary to you, and that any use or distribution of them without your permission is prohibited. This puts others on notice that unauthorized use of your ideas may lead to a lawsuit. The threat alone can be a powerful deterrent.

E-Mail Privacy

A major limitation of e-mail is the lack of privacy. An e-mail message can be read not only by the intended recipient, but by her employer or anyone to whom it gets forwarded. Planners can minimize the problem of e-mail gone astray by treating every message as if it will be available to anyone and everyone. Address every message in a professional tone. Avoid gossip and defamatory statements at all costs.

Internet Contracts

Can you make a contract over the Internet? Absolutely. The parties send each other messages containing terms and conditions, and they signify their intention to create an agreement. This contract will be binding, particularly if each party signs documents at some point mentioning the e-mail agreement.

The federal government passed an “e-signatures” law in 2000 that allows contracting parties to “sign” documents online. Since then, technology companies have developed electronic signatures that are unique and secure to their users. Surprisingly, e-signatures have not yet caught on. Most people still prefer to see personal signatures on their contracts. But this is expected to change as the next generation enters the business world.




Joshua L. Grimes, Esq., a lawyer with a nationwide hospitality practice, is a frequent speaker at meeting-industry events. Clients include meeting planners, associations, hotels, and convention facilities. Contact him at grimesj@grimeslaw.org or (215) 772-5070, or visit www.grimeslaw.org.