I received an email this week from Michael Powers, author of Heart Touchers: Life Changing Stories of Faith, Love, and Laughter. Michael had found one of his book’s chapters published on a website. The website had removed his name from the piece and had even added three paragraphs to the end of what was now a published “article.”
When he approached the publisher of that website, the publisher claimed that, since the article was based on the writer’s conversation with another person, he (the writer) didn’t own the copyright to the material.
Who does own the copyright to words obtained in an interview? Interviewees can certainly use their own words over and over again without violating the writer’s copyright. They do, after all, own their own thoughts and feelings. However, they can’t take the article resulting from their interview and publish it for their own use, in whole or in part. or give permission for someone else to do so. They can, however, give their own original quotes to another writer for use in another article. And, yes, they can give the exact same quotes to multiple writers if they choose to do so.
Professional articles are never written exactly as the dialogue occurred, even those written from just one interview. The finished article isn’t just a list of unedited statements from the interviewee (if it is, it’s a very shoddy article!). The writer (and then the publishing editor) chooses which statements to include in the article and often edits the statements for clarity or space. They then sort the information into a sensible and organized sequence. In fact, because of the cutting, reorganizing, and editing required, articles resulting from interviews can often be more difficult and time-consuming to write than articles requiring simple research through reading. The final article is a creative piece of work that is, in the vast majority of cases, nothing like the original interview that took place.
Just because a writer uses someone else’s words doesn’t give others the permission to use their article, even with the interviewee’s permission! The final piece belongs to the writer, or the publication that purchased the copyrights for it. Publishing that article, or any portion thereof, without the permission of the copyright owner is a violation of copyright law.