Presentations and copyright – what you should pay attention to

The dear trouble with copyright

Every PowerPoint presentation is subject to copyright. If you include third-party content such as images or videos in your presentation documents, you must pay attention to the legal requirements. Otherwise, it can quickly become expensive.

The following article is intended to make you aware of the dangers that can arise when embedding third-party content in your own presentation. Neither may nor do I wish to give you binding legal advice here. I just want to make you aware of this issue. If necessary, it is better to seek the advice of an experienced lawyer. A professional in media law gives you the final assurance. But you can avoid many dangers in advance if you pay attention to a few things.

A PowerPoint presentation should provide interesting content for the audience. Often, however, you don’t have suitable charts, photos or graphics to make the current upcoming presentation exciting. Fortunately, a myriad of media exists on the Internet that the speaker can incorporate into their presentation to enhance their slides. But is it allowed to simply help oneself from other people’s sources for free? And do you fully own the content if you pay for it?

Here are a few pointers that should serve as inspiration for you to consider copyright law in your presentations.

1.       Photos and illustrations

– Photos, charts or graphics etc. that you find on the Internet are almost always legally protected. You should also be careful with the images that Google Image Search displays.

– Clarify rights with creators or rights holders. Mostly this is indicated with the pictures. Sometimes it is enough to mention the name of the photographer as the source to get permission to use it. Sometimes you have to pay for the use. If you are unable to locate the copyright holder for an image or if you do not receive a reply, it is better to leave it alone.

– Buying photos from image services is the most common way to get images. Besides photos, illustrations, cartoons and graphics are also offered there. The best known sources are “Fotolia” “iStockphoto”, “Gettyimages” or “Flickr”. Here, the license conditions of the provider must be observed. Copyright attribution is usually necessary and should always be done to be on the safe side.

– The “Image quote” offers a possibility to use photos in the presentation for free. As with a verbatim quote, you can also use an image to support a statement. The picture quotation is allowed only if it additionally supports your own thoughts and views. The image must fit exactly and not only thematically. For example, if you want to emphasize that you have optimally revised the Internet presence of a customer (who has agreed), you can use a screenshot of the home page. You may not use a similar page from a competitor in that case because it might somehow fit in thematically. This means that your explanations must refer to the specific image. As with word citations, the source must be indicated and the scope must be limited. So, in our case, you could use a screenshot of the client’s home page, but not decorate your entire presentation with images of the home page.

2.       Embedding videos

Embedding or “framing” is the process of embedding video into a medium, in our case a PowerPoint slide. They can then be viewed directly on the page. However, the actual content continues to come from the website where this content was uploaded, i.e. a video portal like YouTube. If it is deleted there, it will disappear from the other websites as well.

In July 2015, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) issued a landmark ruling on the  topic of “framing”. Accordingly, framing does not constitute copyright infringement if the protected content is accessible to all on the Internet with the consent of the copyright holder. In practice, of course, it is difficult to judge whether a rights holder has deliberately uploaded a video to YouTube, Vimeo & Co. or whether the video was posted without his knowledge. So there remains a clear residual risk that can only be eliminated with a lot of research effort.

The insertion of foreign text passages and quotations

There are texts that get to the heart of facts in such a way that you might like to use some passages in your presentation. Sometimes even well-known people say such memorable and coherent sentences that they are just made for additionally supporting your own statements in a presentation. Unfortunately, as with the use of third-party images and illustrations, there are a whole series of restrictions, which must be observed in order to avoid warnings.

For example, you usually need permission from the publisher or author if you want to use passages from a book. If in doubt, assume that all text products are subject to copyright and protected from unauthorized use. The legal situation is somewhat different if you quote from the works of others. When quoting, the author must be named. If the quotation comes from a published text, e.g. from a technical book, the source must also be named (also on the slide).

But how much text may one quote from a work? Since you should use text sparingly in your presentation anyway, I would strongly discourage the use of multiple connected sentences on one slide. Less is more. Courts have made different rulings on this issue in the past. In general, the length of the citation should be appropriate to the purpose. Unfortunately, this is not very binding.

There are a few basic rules as to what types of text are protected and may only be used as part of a quote or reproduced in your own words:

Blog articles are protected.
– Newspaper articles are protected.
– Books are protected.
– Tweets are not protected.
– Press releases are not protected.

Rights of use to a presentation

Your own presentation is also protected by copyright. Significant for the jurisdiction is the personal performance of the summary. Even if you gather information from other sources, you are creating a new work. Of course, this applies in the same way if you want to use other people’s presentations or upload them somewhere. You need the consent of the author who created or owns the presentation.

Organizers are generally not liable for the presentation of speakers. Copyright violations in slide presentations are the responsibility of the speaker. However, the case is different if you, as the organizer, subsequently make all presentations available for download. Then, unfortunately, you can also be legally prosecuted if a copyright violation is found on one of the slides. However, if you want to provide the presentations as a special service, you should consider the following beforehand:

Download with password only– This way you can at least make sure that only the desired group of people has access to the slides.

Block and prohibit printing – If you block exporting, modifying and copying images for the presentations , this increases your security. Sometimes the terms and conditions of image providers are a bit opaque. Possibly the acquired image rights are limited to personal use, but not to further distribution.

Written consent from slide owners– Have presenters confirm in writing that they agree to download their slides.

All information is of course without guarantee. If in doubt, ask a lawyer for more information.


Using other people’s content for one’s own presentation offers exciting opportunities, but also great risks if copyright is not taken into account. It is better to ask once too often than to run the risk of receiving a warning of several thousand euros!

Portrait_Matthias Garten_white backgroundDipl.-Wirtsch.-Informatiker Matthias Garten is the expert for multimedia presentations. He is an entrepreneur, speaker (TOP 100 Speaker), trainer (TOP 100 Excellence Trainer), multiple book author, presentation coach (presentation training), member of the GSA and Club 55, organizer of the Presentation Conference, Presentation Bootcamp and Presentation Rocket Days. In addition to PowerPoint and presentation training, he inspires and advises companies to present themselves even more effectively and thus stand out from competitors. He is the business owner of the presentation and PowerPoint agency smavicon Best Business Presentations and with his team has created over 15,000 presentations for over 150 industries since 1993.