Virtual meeting platforms have seen user numbers increase substantially since the end of 2019. Services such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom have become an increasingly utilised tool as a large number of businesses have directed employees to work from home during the various COVID-19 lockdowns.
When utilising services such as Skype or Zoom, businesses need to be aware of their terms and conditions, particularly what they say about intellectual property relating to content being presented through the platforms.
Terms & Conditions
During the pandemic, Zoom became one of the most popular virtual meeting platforms available, particularly for businesses. Zoom's Terms of Service makes specific reference to intellectual proprietary rights and how copyright protection is provided. Clause 11 states:
"COPYRIGHT. You may not post, modify, distribute, or reproduce in any way copyrighted material, trademarks, rights of publicity or other proprietary rights without obtaining the prior written consent of the owner of such proprietary rights. Zoom may deny access to the Services to any User who is alleged to infringe another party's copyright. Without limiting the foregoing, if You believe that Your copyright has been infringed, please notify Zoom as specified here."
In essence, Zoom's Terms of Service state that a user is not permitted to use copyrighted material without first obtaining written permission of the owner. Usefully, Clause 11 provides a link to notify Zoom of any potential copyright infringement.
It is important to note that Zoom do not claim ownership of your content. Zoom's Terms of Service do not appear to grant Zoom or a third party (which may include meeting participants) a licence to use or reproduce any of the material used through the services.
When using Zoom:
"You retain copyright and any other rights You already hold in Content which You submit, post or display on or through, the Services."
Zoom provides further aid to the user, stating:
"Zoom will maintain reasonable physical and technical safeguards to prevent unauthorized disclosure of or access to Content, in accordance with industry standards. Zoom will notify the user if it becomes aware of unauthorised access to Content."
It is unclear what steps Zoom would take if the company was made aware that the use of copyright-protected materials had occurred via its platform.
Keep in mind, there are exceptions which enable users to share a copyrighted work via a virtual meeting platform, that do not violate copyright protection. These include:
- Fair dealing (e.g. reporting news, parody, or research); or
- Insubstantial use (e.g. a quote or brief excerpt).
It seems clear that under Zoom's Terms of Service, the main obligation of users is to avoid infringing on someone else's copyrighted material. This is shown through Zoom requiring written consent from the material's owner prior to its use on the platform.
Notably, Zoom's Terms of Service adhere to the requirement of 'written consent'. Some providers have moved away from this requirement, for instance Google's Terms of Service states:
"Your content remains yours, which means that you retain any intellectual property rights that you have in your content. For example, you have intellectual property rights in the creative content you make, such as reviews you write. Or you may have the right to share someone else's creative content if they've given you their permission."
Microsoft Teams and Skype
Microsoft Teams and Skype are both Microsoft products governed by the Microsoft Services Agreement ('MSA'). Users of Microsoft Teams and Skype should be aware of the following important terms provided under the MSA:
Microsoft do not claim ownership of your content, however, they state that you are responsible for it. Microsoft further expands on this, stating:
"When you share Your Content with other people, you understand that they may be able to, on a worldwide basis, use, save, record, reproduce, broadcast, transmit, share and display Your Content without compensating you."
When using the Microsoft Teams or Skype, you grant Microsoft:
"...a worldwide and royalty-free intellectual property license to use Your Content, for example, to make copies of, retain, transmit, reformat, display, and distribute via communication tools Your Content on the Services."
As compared with Zoom, the MSA takes a rather hard-line approach towards the protection of intellectual property when using Microsoft services. The MSA goes further to say:
"If you do not want others to have that ability, do not use the Services to share Your Content."
Like Zoom, Microsoft provide users with the ability to submit a Notice of Infringement, although this will only be of use if copyrighted material is republished via a Microsoft service.
Recording a meeting
Privacy laws place a responsibility on anyone looking to record a meeting to first obtain the consent of the participants. This requires advising participants on why you want to record the meeting, and asking that they consent to the recording for that purpose. Zoom provides an alert to participants when they join meetings if the host is recording a meeting, giving them the option to leave the meeting.
Protection of your presentation IP
Zoom's Acceptable Use Policy prohibits end users/participants from using the Zoom service to:
"violate or infringe any intellectual property or proprietary rights of others, including copyrights."
It would seem that under Zoom's Acceptable Use Policy participants or the audience cannot use the host's content so as to infringe their intellectual property rights. If an end user violates the Acceptable Use Policy, Zoom may immediately terminate their account, suspend or terminate access or take any other appropriate action, including legal action.
As noted above, the MSA provides that if you do not want participants to copy or reproduce your work/presentation then don't use Microsoft Teams or Skype. The MSA goes further to say:
'Microsoft does not own, control, verify, pay for, endorse or otherwise assume any liability for Your Content and cannot be held responsible for Your Content or the material others upload, store or share using the Services.'
Thoroughly review the Terms & Conditions prior to using a virtual meeting platform like those mentioned above - these will specify how your content is used or created. Using services that do not protect your intellectual property rights should be considered carefully.
- Do not discuss content which is confidential without first ensuring that appropriate security or encryption measures are in place.
- Keep all of your intellectual property clauses in all agreements current and document how your intellectual property is to be treated - this should include any future intellectual property created through collaboration.
- Communicate confidentiality at the beginning of each meeting.
- Make sure that employees are apprised of the privacy and security features of the service so that they can be implemented before the commencement of the meeting, conference or webinar.
- Provide adequate training to staff with regard to what is and is not deemed appropriate for discussion on virtual meeting platforms.
- Keep yourself up to date regarding security breaches on electronic and virtual meeting platforms. Useful resources include:
If you have a query relating to any of the information in this article, or you would like to speak with someone in Holman Webb's Intellectual Property or Business, Corporate and Commercial Groups, please don't hesitate to get in touch today.