We take a lot of things for granted in life: The sky is blue…the grass is green…bearded dudes are awesome. But the longer I’m a business owner, the more I’m learning I must remove the rose-colored glasses and look at life through a skeptic’s lens. I’m beginning to understand that I mustn’t always assume we’re all on the same page or share the same interests.
Not that everyone’s out to get me or screw me over at every turn. But just that misunderstandings can and do occur. And that, as impersonal and time consuming as they may be to create, taking some legal steps to predetermine the obligations, expectations, and rights of all parties might just be the only way to play.
One assumption I recently reexamine revolved around the question: Who is the Copyright Owner of an Interview?
The primary context of my question relates to interviews conducted for content marketing purposes—not, for example, job interviews. For content marketing interviews, it always seemed obvious to me that interviewers owned the content collected from interviewees. At least in my experiences, the interviewers did the heavy lifting in preparing/conducting the interview and producing the finished work. But it appears it’s not as simple as that.
If you made that same assumption, you may find the following helpful:
From what I could find, the minute an interview is “fixed” it becomes copyrightable—meaning as soon as it is audio recorded, video recorded, or transcribed in nearly verbatim notes by the interviewer. The physical nature of the interview makes it “fixed.” However, this “fixation” must be done with permission by the interviewee. So I’m sorry D’Angelo Russell, your Snapchat video of Nick Young would not be subject to copyright protection.
In researching this answer, I found several precedents. Some pointed to the interviewer, some pointed to the interviewee, and others pointed to shared ownership. But it does appear that, as long is the interviewee is aware an interview is taking place, the majority of the time the court sides with the interviewer as the copyright owner of an interview, unless it was a work for hire arrangement or a preliminary contractual release was made to the contrary. By agreeing to the interview, it was implied that the interviewer was granted a non-exclusive license to publish the content obtained in the interview. However, and this was interesting to discover, if a third-party was involved in recording the conversation, that party would have some right to the copyright ownership.
As an interviewer, it’s best to audio or video record the interviews. And while recording, verbally declare to the interviewee that you are recording and confirm his/her permission to do so. Also, if any special arrangements were made prior to the interview, be sure to document those details in a written contract or on the recording. If you can only take notes during the interview, make sure they’re as close to the original responses as possible. It appears that shorthand does not fully “fix” an interview.
And as an interviewee, unless explicit arrangements are set beforehand, you will most likely not be the copyright owner of the resulting interview. Of course, if you’re concerned how you or your story might be portrayed, you can always deny a request for an interview when first asked.
And for both parties, abide by what you promised in word and in writing.
By no means is the aforementioned an exhaustive look at the topic of interview ownership. Please consult with a legal expert well versed in intellectual property ownership for a more detailed exploration and examination of your specific situation.