Who Owns an Interview? Insights into Copyright Cases

July 2004
by Lloyd L. Rich

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Lloyd RichLloyd Rich is an attorney practicing publishing and intellectual property law. He can be reached at 303-388-0291 or rich@sni.net. Holly Panetta, a third-year student at the University of Denver School of Law, provided the research for this article.

Interviews are frequently an important element of a book, and copyright law permits an author to automatically claim copyright ownership and protection for an “original” work. Does an interview qualify as a copyrightable work? If the answer is yes, who owns an interview–the interviewee or interviewer? Courts have sometimes applied federal copyright law and sometimes applied state or common law copyright law when deciding cases that involve the protection and ownership of interviews.

Federal Protection Questions

The Copyright Act of 1976 protects “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” An interview is copyright protected if it satisfies the “originality” and “fixation” requirements of U.S. copyright. Although the originality requirement is seldom an issue for an interview, the fixation requirement sometimes presents problems. It is satisfied only if the interview is captured in a copy that is “sufficiently permanent” to allow it to be perceived, reproduced, or communicated. Whether an interview is “fixed” depends on the method used by the interviewer to record or remember the conversation with the interviewee.

An audio- or videotape recording provides a verbatim account of the interview that satisfies the fixation requirement. If an interviewer uses shorthand that is later transcribed, this usually creates a verbatim account of the interview that sat…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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