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Is it accepted/appropriate to take pictures of presentation slides at conferences for private use?

I am not talking about putting those pictures out in the public afterwards, I know this is illegal without consent of the presenter.

Should it matter, I am talking about math conferences. And I am asking because I don't see anyone taking pictures.

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    Whether this is appropriate would be opinion-based. Whether it is accepted (or common) isn't. I have never seen anyone taking pictures, either. I know that I'd be a bit confused if somebody did that in my presentation. After all, I'll happily mail anyone who asks the presentation. If I wanted to keep the contents a secret, I'd hardly present them. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Apr 6 '16 at 7:37
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    @Stephan but why is it not accepted, even though you say that one shouldn't present in the first place if there were secrets to be kept? I wouldn't be taking pictures with flash and I wouldnt be using them except for my own archive. But okay, if asking for the slides per mail is common I'll do that instead – Bananach Apr 6 '16 at 7:52
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    @StephanKolassa that's interesting, I've seen it many times. I think I once saw someone taking a photo of the 'no photos please' slide at the opening talk. I never saw them be removed, so I suppose if not acceptable, it wasn't unacceptable to the point of halting proceedings – Phil Apr 6 '16 at 8:50
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    In my experience, taking pictures of the presentation/slides is extremely common, at least in small computer science conferences. I rarely pay any attention to it. When I do, I just take it as a sign that somebody is actually interested in the talk. – Jouni Sirén Apr 6 '16 at 8:53
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    @maarten I am surprised that picture taking could be considered disturbing when doing stuff on laptops without looking up once is absolutely commonplace. I don't see how it would disturb a presentation if I listen actively and then take pictures of the parts that are important to me. To me it's just a modern way of taking notes. Thanks though; after all my question was geared to find out what people think and feel about the issue, not to argue about the one true answer to the issue – Bananach Apr 6 '16 at 12:36
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I have seen it done many times, sometimes I would see people recording entire sessions on video. My guess is these are people coming from institutions that cannot afford to send many researchers abroad and the one person sent will pass the material to their colleagues in their home country.

Some conferences explicitly forbid recording presented material. See for example the American Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO):

ARO does not permit audio or photographic recording of any research data presented at the meeting.

But that rule was not strictly enforced at the meetings I attended. So the answer is: it depends on the venue.

  • A lot of big conferences are like this. The biggest conference in my field expressly forbids all photos / videos and I even saw them stop the talks twice this year to tell people to stop taking photos. I don't agree with it personally, but that's how it is. Emailing or approaching the people whose talks you'd like a copy of is the way forward, in that situation. – la femme cosmique Aug 8 '16 at 14:55
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Your observation is right in general (but note that the situation may be a bit different if some big-shot gives a plenary - people may take pictures or may even ask for autograms).

If the conference does not have an official policy, I would suggest to try to ask the speaker beforehand. However, as explained in the comments, speakers usually are happy to send you their slides (or upload them somewhere anyway), so there seems to be little use in taking pictures of moderate quality of some slides while you can have the whole presentation in perfect quality.

As a matter of fact, at some of my first conferences I did take pictures during talks. This was when I was new to the community and not to record the slides but to help me remember who the speaker was and to identify them in the coffee-breaks even a few days later. I made sure that taking pictures did not disturb the talk in any way (e.g. no flash and all sounds turned off).

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Interesting to read the other answers and the discussion in the comments, which suggest that there are very different practices around this. I'll add a different perspective, because in my field (a quantitative social science), it is absolutely commonplace to take pictures of slides and also to tweet them. In fact, this is often even encouraged. When I give a talk, I want to reach a large audience, and if someone is interested in it but cannot attend, it is just great if they can be reached in such a way.

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I have often seen researchers at conferences taking pictures during talks. In my field (astrophysics) people often show complicated graphs and equations. If their work is not already published some people like to take photos of the slides to help them understand the work and discuss it with the speaker later. Most of the conferences I've been to will ask speakers to submit slides for an online repository to be shared with attendees later, so everyone will get the slides eventually. I have also emailed a speaker who gave a talk very relevant to my research a couple of days after a conference asking for a copy of the presentation to help me understand some of the notes I took at the time. They were perfectly happy to share their work but also asked that I keep it to myself until it was published.

I would say it is fine as an aid to memory, but it is polite to ask the speaker first or mention it if you chat to them later.

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    "it is polite to ask the speaker fist or mention it if you chat to them later." - just out of interest, would you consider the same to be true for other forms of storing the contents of the talk for later retrieval or pondering, such as taking notes with a pencil, or maybe even just remembering parts of the information conveyed? – O. R. Mapper Apr 6 '16 at 17:02
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    @O.R.Mapper- note-taking or remembering I would not consider necessary to mention to the speaker, as this is what everyone does at conferences in my experience. The difference with pictures is direct reproduction of someone else's work. It's like the difference between referencing, quoting and plagarism in papers or essays; discussing someone else's ideas is normally always acceptable, taking direct quotes is allowed so long as you give them credit, but using their words as your own is not ok. – FJC Apr 7 '16 at 14:10
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    Interesting. I do not really see the difference, as memory or notes can just as well directly reproduce parts of what is being presented. Arguably, these are even much more likely to produce quotes without proper attribution, as metainformation such as the author's name is typically found in the footer of slides and hence comes along automatically when taking photos. Clearly, this seems to be very field-dependent, as in my experience, taking photos of slides is what everyone does at conferences. – O. R. Mapper Apr 7 '16 at 18:01
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Actually all these comments are naive. It is completely inappropriate to take pictures. If you have sat behind an idiot who does you'd know why - its bad etiquette and interferes with the focus and thinking of all those around the idiot. A presentation should be listened to, not raising cameras obstructing others views and then distracting the thought processes further with noise and lights. Presentations are not there for taking pictures but actual communication - its not wonder there are no more questions these days after many presentations other than from the front.

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    There's really no need for that kind of language. What is good or bad etiquette varies wildly, you cannot just assume that your own preferences are universal. (I've moved to China recently-ish, and taking pictures of slides is very common here. It doesn't seem bad etiquette at all. On the other hand, blowing your nose is definitely bad etiquette. Would you like to read a screed about "idiots in presentations distracting everyone with their disgusting tissue trumpeting"?) – nengel Jan 28 '18 at 6:53

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