Weekly News & Insights: Staying on the Right Side of the Law

Photo: FreeImages.com/creationc
Photo: FreeImages.com/creationc

When you’re planning for a trade show, conference or special event, you’re focused on the experience you’re creating and the endless list of tasks you must complete on time. But there are two often-ignored aspects that can land you in a lot of hot water if you’re not careful: music licensing and anti-spam laws. (Note: I’m not a lawyer so I can’t give legal advice. I’m simply pointing out areas where you need to do further investigation and/or contact your attorney to be sure you’re doing things right.)

Music licensing (or rather the lack of) is one of my pet peeves. Especially these days when everyone carries a thousand songs around in their pocket, it seems no one cares about the rights of the artists. I’ve known major organizations who skip over licensing procedures and blatantly play “stolen” music. While there are lots of ins and outs to fully understanding copyright laws, here’s the basic idea in a nutshell: copyright owners (musicians) have the exclusive right to perform their music, including the digital recordings. For further explanation, here’s an article on music licensing for events and conferences. Failing to pay the proper licensing fees (to agencies such as BMI or ASCAP) could lead to pricey penalties or even lawsuits. Here’s a list of the types of licenses and fees that pertain to events and trade shows – they’re probably lower than you might think! (Note that the fee lists are from 2011, but will still give you an idea. Contact the appropriate licensing organization for current info.)

Here in the U.S., we’ve had the CAN-SPAM Act in effect since 2003, which permits commercial e-mails as long as they comply with three required criteria:

  • Unsubscribe or “opt-out” option is clearly visible in every e-mail sent
  • Relevant subject and accurate “from” lines are used, with a legitimate physical address included within each e-mail
  • Recipients must give their permission or “opt-in” to receive these commercial e-mails (existing customers or those who’ve inquired previously are considered “relationship” messages and are also allowed)

And while there are still a lot of offenders (whether intentional or not), U.S. businesses for the most part are in compliance.

But here’s where it gets tricky. Last month, Canada’s even-stricter CASL went into effect, which covers not only e-mail, but also text and social media communications. So what does that mean? First of all, if you’ve been adding people to your list after simply meeting them at a conference and receiving their business card, you’d better stop. Especially if you or they are Canadian! Some experts are even cautioning against including “forward to a friend” links within e-mails since that’s a gray area.

And what about the attendee lists that show managers provide for exhibitors? Those better include an air-tight clause stating that people are signing up to receive communications from exhibitors as well. Otherwise, exhibitors can be in violation of the law, even if the show isn’t.

For more information on CASL, check out this article from Copyblogger and CASL Survival Guide by Elite Email.

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