I have decided to withdraw from being a speaker at CFUNITED. I'll still be attending, but just won't be presenting. People have been asking me why, so let me explain.

Conferences have traditionally been one-shot deals for presenters and organizers alike. For speakers it is a lot of work to put together and prepare presentations. For the organizers, they have to secure a venue, create speaker schedules, promote the conference, sell tickets, and manage every problem that comes up along the way.

Speakers are [usually] compensated for the time they spend preparing presentations; often in the form of a free ticket and/or a hotel room (and resume padding). Organizers keep profit off ticket sales. Both sides do their part; contribute to a successful conference, and everyone walks away happy. This has worked well in the past. Unfortunately, the CFUNITED organizers have changed that relationship.

Last year, they added a clause to the speaker agreement that gave them unlimited worldwide rights to content (the presentation) and likeness of the speaker. This is the exact wording:

view plain print about
1Permission to TeraTech to use my name, likeness, video recordings, voice recordings, digital images, and photographs of me and my possessions for the project and any derivative work of the project, including promotional materials in connection with the project, in any media throughout the world.

(Source: https://secure.teratech.com/cfunited/cfun2005reg_speaker.cfm )

The speaker agreement is not a formal business contract, but a terms and conditions. I questioned this clause at the time and left the conversation believing that this clause would be used for promotional type activities. This gave them permission to use my picture in print ads, post my presentation on the web site or print it in the conference booklet: all valid uses of content / likeness.

Unfortunately, I assumed too much based on our initial conversation. The organizers recently started selling an Audio DVD of presentations recorded at CFUNITED-05. My presentation was included on the set. I was upset that this usage was contrary to what we had discussed. I like to keep control over what is distributed with my name on it. I complained. I was referred to the clause in the agreement. I pointed to our conversation about the clause in the CFUNITED-05 agreement. I was given a lesson in, "It doesn't matter what we say, it only matters what we put in writing."

When I have written books, I had the ability to remove my name if I didn't approve edits. When I've written articles, I had final approval of the content. In this case, I had zero input on the final product. I have a problem with that.

My second issue is compensation. I was compensated for the initial use of my content during the conference, but for nothing after. Why should they have unlimited use of my presentation (and likeness) without further compensation to me?

This year the conference is going to be videotaped. Videos will be available on-line two weeks after the event. The cost of a 1-year video subscription is equivalent to the cost of a 4-day ticket. It's a significant price jump from the Audio DVDs currently being sold. I went back to them and tried to negotiate approval of the video, compensation for the continued use of my content, and a formal written agreement documenting the previous two. The terms were non-negotiable and we decided it was best for me to respectfully withdraw from the conference.

Now you know how I feel, so let's look at a few hypothetical situations that could come out of the speaker terms:

  • Flex: It looks like next year is going to be a year for Flex. There is no secret that Adobe is making a big push for Flex and that they are positioning ColdFusion as the "best" tool for the middleware for Flex applications. I noticed there is a whole track on Flex at the conference. What is to prevent the organizers from combining all of the presentations from that track into a single Flex training class? The class would easily constitute a derivative work; and as such the original presenters would not be able to prevent its usage. Some might argue that the PowerPoint is not equal to the presentation. That is true, but they can piece together the extra content from the performance video. What if they took the presenter's name off the material that they used to build the class? What if they kept it there, and used the presenter's name / likeness in promotion of this class?
  • Publishing: There are over 60 presentations being given at CFUNITED. What is to prevent the organizers from republishing that content? In the past, it is relatively common for them to republish the information by making presentation material available for free download. Many (myself included) would agree that this is an acceptable use. But, what if they start charging for download? Or what if they rework the PowerPoint presentations into articles and then publish them in a magazine, such as CFDJ? That article would be a derivative source. What if they removed the presenter's name, but kept the examples? What if they changed the message along the way? What if they kept the presenter's name on the article? What if they removed it?
  • Derivative Works: What if a presenter created a derivative work of the presentation? Suppose the presenter demonstrated a great new product that everyone wanted to buy? What if, at some future date, a new version of the presenter's great new product is released? Wouldn't that new version be a derivative work of the original presentation? Under the speaker agreement, the conference organizer has right to all derivative works. What if the organizer started competing with the presenter by selling this great new product? In the case of CFUNITED, derivative works created by the organizers are already being sold. What prevents them from using derivative works they didn't?

As stated, the previous list is hypothetical. Could they do it? Yes, with the current agreement. Will they? I'd like to think not, but I didn't want to leave myself open to the possibility. I wanted to deal with any ambiguity up front.

Tell me I'm wrong! Tell me I'm right!