Does Copyright Law Protect Interviews?

Interviews are used for countless different types of written publication, including books, newspapers and magazines. Authors use interviews with specialists and experts to further their own agendas or to prove or disprove an assertion, and interviews are used commonly enough to have been questioned about copyright law.

Can copyright laws protect an interview?

According to federal copyright law, “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” are considered protected. This means that a written work must satisfy two specific qualities in order to be protected under federal law. First it must be created in fixed form, which means that it must be written down so that it can be distributed or reproduced physically. Second, it must also be an original work, meaning that it cannot have been taken from another work or document.

In the case of an interview, most are original. The interviewee is asked questions by the interviewer, and gives answers based on his or her knowledge or experience. Rarely would plagiarism be called into question when it comes to an interview, unless of course the interview is given on paper.

When it comes to the first part of the copyright clause, however, there might be some discrepancy. “Fixed form” refers to information that is written down or otherwise fixed into a tangible form. Interviews which are taped and then transcribed would satisfy this requirement, as would an interview which is answered on paper, either through electronic or physical means.

Let’s say, however, that the interviewer only takes shorthand notes during the interview. He or she then will paraphrase the answers given the interviewee. Technically, in this case, the original interview is not copyrighted; only the paraphrased text in the end work is protected.

The other aspect that must be considered in an interview is whether or not the interviewee consented to be questioned. In a case where the interviewer concealed a tape recorder or failed to notify his or her subject of the interview, the answers will not be subject to copyright law. In most states, this is also illegal, which could result in legal ramifications for the author.

When you are conducting interviews and you are concerned about making sure the result is copyrighted, be sure to follow these tips:

1. Establish the Interview. If you are taking the interview, say (on tape) that this is an official interview, and ask for the consent of the interviewee. This way, the question of consent will never be called into question.

2. Tape the Interview. Once the interview has been taped, you can transcribe it verbatim onto paper. This will establish it as a copyrighted work, and the question will never be asked about protection.

3. Differentiate direct quotes from paraphrasing. In the final text, make sure that it is clear exactly which sections are paraphrased, and which are direct quotes to make sure there is no confusion.

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