Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Insider Incites Intellectual Property Profundity

It is still weird every time I see people of note take note of a nobody like me. Saturday a poster on the APG (Association of Professional Genealogists) mailing list made note of my detailed reports of the BYU Genealogy Conference and recommended further discussion. Rondina Muncy posted,

This week a blogger posted the collective comments he/she twittered from the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy that took place July 28-31. This raised some questions. The tweets from at least two lectures seemed to be following a handout or the lecture being presented---point by point. Does this trespass on the intellectual property rights of the instructors?

I don't know if this is the first large genealogy conference that has been twittered, but it is the first one I have heard of and the first time I have seen compiled tweets posted on any site. I believe that it is time to have a discussion about this and would like to hear the thoughts of APG listers.

I had not stopped to consider this question, which is odd considering my previous participation as a intellectual property plaintiff in federal court.

Educational tradition encourages the development of intellectual property through the free flow of ideas, if and only if proper credit is given. (See an experience of Elizabeth Shown Mills.) Governments encourage the development of intellectual property by granting exclusive, albeit temporary, rights to creators.

Publicity is good. Removing the demand for a lecture is bad. There is a balance to be struck there,” said Ray Beere Johnson II.

The ensuing APG discussion brought up many points to consider, including:

  • Can Tweets of conference sessions be so detailed that they exceed fair use?
  • Can infringement of the presenter’s handout occur independently of infringement of the presenter’s live audio/visual presentation?
  • Does the question of infringement differ for live reporting versus reports generated afterwards from a reporter’s private notes?
  • How does Twitter technology limitations affect questions of intellectual property?
  • (And for those unfamiliar with Twitter’s technology:) Does reposting the tweets afterwards in a blog change anything?
  • Does the tweeter need the permission of the lecturer?
  • What role does freedom of speech play?
  • Does rewording avoid infringement? Does quoting become infringement?
  • Does a presentation—a performance—meet the copyright requirement of reduction to fixed form?
  • Can a party simultaneously reduce a presentation to fixed form and infringe it?
  • Is shorthand a greater threat than Twitter?
  • Do “rights of integrity” apply to presentations?
  • Is it rude to the presenter to tweet during a presentation?

To these, I add some questions of my own:

  • Should the tweeter have the permission of the conference organizers?
  • Do conference organizers need to cover tweeting in contracts with presenters?
  • Do the special protections given to the press extend to bloggers? To tweeters?
  • How does the discussion change outside the United States?
  • Is it rude to other audience members to tweet during a presentation?

Some attempt is made to analogize tweeting with familiar activities with which we have some surer notion of legality and morality.

  • Is tweeting like taking notes of a presentation?
  • Is tweeting like writing a review of a presentation?
  • Is tweeting like live reporting of a newsworthy event?
  • Is tweeting like press reports of a newsworthy event?
  • Is tweeting like publishing portions of a presentation?

Noted lecturer Michael John Neill weighed in on the subject. Neill spoke at the BYU conference. I tweeted one of his sessions and will repost it here in a couple of weeks. Neill made the point that,

While a tweet makes some of your points as a lecturer, they cannot
convey the entire lecture, your sense of humor (or lack thereof), your
ability to engage an audience, your ability to project your
enthusiasm, etc. Anyone who thinks lecturing is simply about making a
few points with PowerPoint slides is mistaken. Your points are
important, but there is much more to bring a successful lecturer or
workshop presenter. I would have much more concern over someone with a
video camera recording the entire lecture for potential broadcast at
meeting or other gathering.

Long-time readers know I’m forthright with my opinions. Perhaps it was because of my inclusion of editorial judgments that Michael Hait said of my BYU Conference tweets:

This is the same as a movie review. Some movies I will decide to see based on the review, and others I will decide not to see. If I read a tweeted "review" of a speaker who is lecturing on a topic of which it appears he/she does not have much knowledge, I will attend a different session or otherwise skip the lecture altogether. … This is a service to the consumer. … Some of the [reviewed presentations] did appear quite interesting, and I will now make more of an effort to hear them on the next occasion that I am able.

I still have more APG posts to read, but for now it’s time for bed.

What do you think? To tweet or not to tweet, that twis the twestion…


  1. I thought it referred to your blog at first, but the poster sent me a link to the blog and it was not yours. I sent the link to your blog to the poster and they agreed that yours did not have the issues they were discussing. Your twitters gave credit to the lecturer using quotes and was responsibly written. IMHO, the twittered blog was not as interesting a read as when you all report on these conferences in your own words.

  2. Eileen,

    Thank you for the clarification. It was a learning experience. By the end I was using a leading quote to denote a direct quote, a leading parenthesis to indicate an editorial aside, and neither when I was rewording.

    -- The Insider


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