Among the countless casualties of COVID-19, many much-anticipated events had to be canceled. Instead, some of the world’s largest entertainment industry events are becoming virtual experiences.

Comic Con, which boasts over 135,000 annual attendees, announced that its in-person convention will be replaced in 2020 by a virtual experience. Lollapalooza, an annual music festival in Chicago, will also be virtual this summer. Even the venerable Cannes Film Festival has moved online.

These virtual formats pose new legal challenges, however, including cybersecurity threats, consumer privacy policies, and music licensing.

Challenge 1: Cybersecurity

Many massive, in-person events begin with the same safeguards—a meandering security line, complete with metal detectors and bag inspections. In a virtual environment, there are no such protective measures. Instead, event planners must consider the issue of cybersecurity, especially given the increased number of cyber-attacks during the pandemic.

Specifically, event planners should closely review all contracts for the event. Tickets for in-person events often include a liability waiver on the back of the ticket. Now, event planners will need new liability waivers that explain who is, or is not, liable for data and security breaches. Event planners also need to closely review contracts with technology vendors to determine which party bears the risk of legal liability for data and security breaches. Throughout the contracting and planning process, event planners should be asking: If there is a breach, will the event sponsor be liable?

As important as managing liability is, every effort should be made to reduce the likelihood of harm in the first place. In order to understand how to best secure their event, planners should conduct a risk management review of their virtual environments. This involves implementing processes to validate the identities of participants during the registration process; using trusted methods for payment processing; and building in resiliency to support access to the event itself if things go wrong. Although managing risk in virtual environments can be complex, leveraging standards, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework, can help improve risk assessment efficiency and ensure that managers at least consider all of the functions that must be covered before a successful event.

Challenge 2: Consumer Privacy

With guests participating in virtual events from around the globe, there are new issues that involve consumer privacy laws. As many jurisdictions have their own privacy regulations, event planners need to consider whether the event should have a consent form specific to each attendee’s jurisdiction or whether the event’s consent form should be valid in all jurisdictions. Furthermore, the event planner must confirm that the vendors providing technology for the event have appropriate data and privacy policies in place. In general, event organizers must be mindful of international, national, and local privacy regulations.

Challenge 3: Music Licensing

Regardless of whether an event is in person or virtual, event organizers must obtain the appropriate music licenses. For example, performance rights licenses are needed for the public performance of music, and synchronization licenses (also known as synch licenses) are needed for the use of music in connection with an audiovisual format (e.g., music synchronized with a video). Some music licenses are compulsory (i.e., they can be obtained without the permission of the rights holder), while other music licenses are consensual.

For traditional in-person events that involve the public performance of music, event organizers must obtain the appropriate performance rights licenses. Such licenses are compulsory; can be obtained through performance rights organizations such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), or SESAC; and have rates approved by the Copyright Royalty Board. With a shift to virtual events, which are likely to be streamed or broadcasted via video, often with a musical accompaniment, event organizers may also need to obtain synch licenses. Unlike performance rights licenses, synch licenses are consensual, must be obtained from the applicable music publisher, and do not have standard rates. (Instead, rates must be negotiated with the applicable music publisher.) Ultimately, the shift from in-person events to virtual events could create a taller hurdle for event organizers with respect to music licensing. See our blog post about music licensing here.

As creative community events increasingly migrate online, therefore, event sponsors must reimagine the legal foundations upon which their events rest.

Special thanks to Emily Horak for contributing to this post.