Seth Godin’s mistaken PowerPoint advice

Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing, Purple Cow, and a ton of really great books on successful marketing, wrongly recommends that presenters should include music from their personal CD collections in their public PowerPoint presentations.

The blog post entitled Really Bad PowerPoint, offers five rules to create amazing PowerPoint presentations. Rule number four states:¦

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Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
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You will breaking copyright law if you give a PowerPoint presentation following Seth’s advice here. Unfortunately, you cannot just rip your personal CD collection and attach those tracks to your slides. When you purchase a CD you are not licensed to use the music for anything other than your personal enjoyment. To use music in a commercial vein, you need to obtain permission from the music’s publisher and the recording company.

This shows that even a savvy guy like Seth Godin can be fuzzy about copyright laws. It makes me wonder how often this practice goes on in corporate America. How often have you seen a PowerPoint presentation accompanied by music that the presenter ripped from his/her CD library?

Stock Music companies like UniqueTracks offer fast and easy music licensing to media producers who in turn, integrate the music into their DVDs, videos, podcasts, radio and TV advertising, Flash and Powerpoint presentations and music-on-hold programming.

4 thoughts on “Seth Godin’s mistaken PowerPoint advice

  1. Anonymous

    If you’re not selling the music to anyone during your presentation, how can this be a copyright violation?

    How is playing a song to a room full of business people any different from playing on your home stereo during a private party?

  2. Administrator Post author

    The basic rule to follow is, if you would like to include content in your presentation that you have not personally created or your team hasn’t created in-house, then you need to have permission from the content owner to do so. This would apply to music but also to any photos, art, video or film footage.

    How is it different than playing a song on your home stereo? It’s different because when you use someone’s music to augment your presentation, you are using their work (their intellectual property) to enhance your work.

    Let’s say you are giving your presentation at a convention with an audience of 3000 people and to start things off, your first slide is accompanied by the “Theme from Rocky”. This gets everyone’s attention, you have inspired your audience, they’re ready for what you have to say. The music contributed to your success as a speaker, it enhanced your presentation. You have profited by using the music. To be able to do those things, to be able to link your content with the Rocky theme, you need permission (in the form of a license) from the owner of the recording and the composer of the song.

    Basically, if you’re doing something in a business setting, or if commerce is involved, then you are violating copyright if you use someone else’s content without getting permission (in the form of a license or a release).

  3. seth godin

    you’re correct of course. It’s also correct that you’re not allowed to whistle the theme from the Andy Griffith show or sing Happy Birthday. For all I know, I’m not even allowed to think about a song I like.

    copyright law has nothing, zero, to do with the intent of the original statute. Thanks for reading! Seth

  4. Tim Sanders

    Actually, Seth is totally OK to use music as part of a presentation made in a venue (like a hotel or convention center) that pays BMI and ASCAP royalties. As a professional speaker, all of his gigs are in such venues and such use is fair-use.

    In the precendent setting case Lyon-MGM, a circuit judge ruled that unless the music is syncronized with motion (such as a video or film clip), it is no different to use music with still images than to play a “stinger” from a popular song when the speaker takes the stage.

    What I’ve done in the past is created a timed out PPT with slide advances triggered to follow certain parts of the song. I have the PA engineer start the track and I count it off and manually start the slideshow. Legal and interesting.

    Remember: Only public venues that pay BMI/ASACP cover this use.

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