GBTA’s Problematic IP Policy

GBTA has implemented a strong – and fundamentally wrong –  intellectual property (IP) policy. I’m raising the issue here to ask your help in getting GBTA back on track.  I’ve run out of patience trying to do this on my own.

GBTA’s  new IP policy affects anyone who:

  • Speaks at a GBTA event
  • Contributes to a GBTA committee
  • Provides volunteer services to GBTA

In short, it affects many of the people reading this blog.

Problems for Presenters: GBTA’s policy, read literally, gives GBTA broad license rights in any intellectual property a GBTA presenter has ever created – whether for GBTA or any other party.  This is no ordinary speaker release form.  The language is surprisingly and needlessly broad.

Problems for Committee Members and other Contributors: It gets worse.  GBTA’s new policy requires you to transfer – as in give away – all your rights to whatever IP you may develop for or contribute to GBTA – and potentially all your other IP you’ve ever created.

I hope you’re thinking “There’s no way GBTA’s policy reads this way – Gillespie must be over-reacting.” Unfortunately, I’m not.  These conclusions were drawn by Michael Garvin, a partner who specializes in IP litigation at the law firm of Hahn Loeser.  I retained Mike to pour some cold water on my concerns. Instead, he confirmed them.

Here’s Mike’s eight-page legal analysis of GBTA’s IP policy (Note that Mike successfully defended my former firm in a patent infringement suit. I trust his work.)

I raised my initial concerns to GBTA back in late April. GBTA’s response was basically “Sorry that you feel that way. You’ve misunderstood our intentions.”  Surely GBTA has no intention of picking anyone’s IP pocket.  But IP language matters a lot, and this language is way too broad.  It should be an easy fix.

I elevated the issue to Zane Kerby, GBTA’s Senior Vice President, and sent him the legal analysis in late May. Zane and I were hoping to connect last week, and now I understand he’s out all this week.  This new policy potentially affects every presenter at GBTA’s Convention in July. Time is running out to get this changed.

One Solution: The Stanford University Approach

Stanford uses this speaker_release to obtain appropriate rights from presenters.  It is written in simple English, and lets presenters choose a very fair and practical method for sharing IP rights by using the Creative Commons license structure.

ACTE, GBTA’s main competitor, uses an even simpler approach.

We stopped requesting IP assignments a couple of years ago.  Basically, today, all we do is ask for permission to post the presentations in ACTE Connect. 

said Ron DiLeo, ACTE’s Executive Director. The point is that there are far simpler and much less aggressive approaches available to GBTA.

I’d like to see GBTA release everyone who has already accepted GBTA’s current IP policy, and to implement a Stanford-style speaker release form in its place.

If you share these concerns, please comment here, and/or send a note to your GBTA Chapter President, or to Mike McCormick, GBTA’s executive director. Mike can be reached at

Hopefully, GBTA will quickly modify its IP policy, presenters can safely share their materials,  and I’ll be able to present the two sessions that GBTA has asked me to do. One of those sessions, ironically, is on innovation.

13 thoughts on “GBTA’s Problematic IP Policy

  1. I have to simply wonder what exactly are they thinking? While I am not speaking at the convention this summer, having these restraints will in fact prevent me from ever speaking at any GBTA event in the future. There are many of us in the industry that try to give back with complementary speaking engagements to both the large organization as well as the chapter affiliates, but giving up what we all work so hard to create is really confusing.

    • Brad, my guess is that the language was thrown together without much thought about these consequences. There has to a be a better approach, right?

  2. Scott – thanks for educating us about this important issue. It’s especially helpful to have a detailed opinion from Michael Garvin attached. I’ll rebroadcast this to my network.

    • Debi, as one of the industry’s thought leaders in meetings management, your support is much appreciated. It’s vital that GBTA – and every industry association – make it easy for members to share their ideas. None of us want to see the education pool dry up.

  3. Scott – Is it safe to believe that over time ACTE events will be more attractive because GBTA’s content will look different because folks like you won’t support this IP policy with event content?

    • Patrick, it depends on how seriously presenters take their IP rights and responsibilities, and the extent to which GBTA makes exceptions for those presenters who decline to sign this policy.

      My concern is that if GBTA enforces this IP policy, without exception (as it should), then presenters who value their IP rights won’t contribute to GBTA events. While that may give ACTE an edge in attracting thought leaders, it doesn’t necessarily serve the industry’s broader interests in seeing good ideas exchanged in an open way.

      Speaking only for myself, I can’t present at any GBTA event under this policy.

  4. Update: Ed Silver, GBTA’s SVP of Operations, called a few minutes ago promising a chat with Mike McCormick sometime next week. “We hear your concerns, and want to find a good solution for all parties involved.” It’s good to see GBTA engaged, but actions always speak louder than words.

    • Hi Scott – did you have that chat yet? I really hope this is resolved… Tech companies rely on open and unreserved debate to spark the next wave of innovation…

      • We’re scheduled to speak tomorrow (Fri) afternoon. I’m optimistic, and will keep you posted.

  5. GBTA posted a revised agreement clarifing that all presenters accepting the agreement are giving GBTA and the GBTA Foundation a license to use their presentation(s) for their non-profit purposes. All presenters retain ownership of their presentation(s).

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