Question: copyrights on interviews

Here’s an easy one for the copyright lawyers; so easy in fact, that I probably could find out by looking it up myself. But: three out of the four questions I asked before remain unanswered, so I figured an easy one might be in order to get the keyboards rattling.

5. Who owns the copyrights to an interview?

Simple, eh? The answer is of course: the interviewer. Why? Dunno. Because.

A while ago I started the Wikipedia article on Copyright on religious works, another sneaky way to get my questions answered.

In it, I wrote about a court case in which a church claimed copyrights on writings that had been dictated to them by their gods. Dictated is perhaps too strong a word; they dreamed that they asked their gods questions: “Maaherra lost the case at this level, on the argument that the members of the receiving group had been given an original direction to the writings by selecting and formulating their questions, thus fulfilling the obligation of creative effort required to gain a copyright under U.S. law. By giving this strange twist to the judgment, the judge avoided having to rule on the existence of the space aliens, but may also have damaged the respect for the secular law as felt by Americans.”

The last sentence was later rightly removed from the article by somebody else, because it is opinion, not fact.

Oddly enough, there was an appeal, in which the “infringer” won: the judgement “was later overturned on the grounds that the Urantia Foundation was not the author, and that the sleeping subject, sometimes highly controversially called a channeler, was legally considered the author, and that the Urantia Foundation thus could not file a valid copyright renewal.”

There are two things that strike me as odd here:

1) That two courts in a row think dreamed texts can be burdened by copyrights.
2) That it is the interviewer who holds the copyright, not the interviewee.

The reason given is apparently that the interviewer makes a selection, which to me sounds dangerously close to a database right, which the US (where these cases took place) supposedly does not have.

Earlier questions:

1. Why does a work published after the death of an author receive a copyright? (answer)
2. How can SNTE (the firm that maintains and exploits the Eiffel tower) claim a copyright on the image of the illuminated Eiffel tower when the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas has had a very similar lighted Eiffel tower since two years before?
3. What rights does Microsoft base it’s licenses for protocols on?
(2+3 as yet unanswered)
4. Is it possible to create a public domain image based on copyrighted sources? (as yet unanswered)

4 responses to “Question: copyrights on interviews”

  1. brankl says:

    Over at the Lessig blog, folks comment. (This my latest question had been playing on my mind recently, but Tim Wu’s question on Why do movie studios get a license from newspapers to turn news stories into movies, even if facts are not copyrightable? triggered me to post about it.)

    Bruce mentions that there’s “an old case involving Hemingway, but the court found that Hemingway granted the interview with the understanding that it would be published, so without deciding the issue of interviewee ownership, they concluded that even if he owned the copyright he had impliedly licensed the reporter to publish it. The case pre-dates the 1976 Act, which is why it discusses “common-law copyright,” which no longer exists.”

    Tim Wu had the question in an exam question (featuring Ali G.): “The hard question is, what if the interviewee does something like compose a limmerick during the interview?”

    Stimulated by the response I decided to some more Googling myself, and found a link to an article at the website of the “Independent Book Publishers Association” PMA. A lawyer, Lloyd L. Rich, points out that things aren’t necessarily as clear cut.

  2. Iain MacKinnon says:

    On the issue of who owns copyright in an interview, in Canada (and UK) the law is fairly clear that the author (or interviewer) owns copyright. An Ontario Court of Appeal case involving the estate of Glenn Gould upheld this principle where an author published a book based on photos, notes, and tapes recorded from interviews he did with Gould 40 years earlier. The estate argued that it owned copyright in those materials. The court found that the author owned copyright.
    Short summary of case:
    More details of facts and judgment:

    A subsequent Federal Court of Canada case made the same finding where a publisher took parts of a book on Shania Twain and used those parts in a new book on Twain. The publisher argued that the parts taken could not be subject to copyright protection by the original author because they lacked originality and were simply facts about Twain’s life. The court distinguished the U.S. law in this area and followed Gould. It found that the original author/interviewer owned copyright in the interview with Twain and that the publisher infringed the expression of the facts, not the facts themselves.
    More details here:
    and here:

  3. brankl says:

    Thanks for the insights. According the Wikipedia article on the Gould case, the clincher here was that Gould was not talking with the intention to create a fixed work, and a work needs fixation to be copyrightable. There’s apparently still room for a decision where the interviewee does get (some) copyrights.

  4. brankl says:

    Robert Nagle in passing pointed me towards this Creative Commons page on podcasting, which has a section on the copyrights on interviews.

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