Sunday, May 25, 2008

Do you need permission to reproduce interviews?

Dear Rich: I have a question. I am a science journalist and I've recorded interviews with many famous scientists. I've used this material in books and articles and would now like to use these on a website for free, open-access listening. Someone has suggested that I obtain permissions from all my subjects or their estates. I believe that no permissions are required because the subjects implicitly granted me permission to use the interview material as I saw fit when they sat down with me and my tape recorder and pad. I'm so glad you asked. You are navigating through one of the grayer areas of copyright law so in answering, I'll have to use a lot of equivocating language, such as 'likely,' 'may,' and 'probably.' If you don't have time to read all of that stuff, the bottom line is that you are probably okay to do what you plan to do. The courts and legal scholars are not a beacon of clarity when it comes to divvying up the rights for interviews.

From the limited case law available, it's likely that a court will consider an interview to consist of two separate works: one work created by the interviewer's questions, and the other created by the subject's responses. These works may be protected under traditional copyright principles (or they may be protected under what's referred to as common law copyright). Under that 'two-separate works' approach, you'd need permission to reproduce the subject's answers. That permission may be implied by the subject's consent to the interview. In fact, one court -- dealing with an interview with Ernest Hemingway -- hinted that Hemingway's failure to limit usage at the time of the interview implied unlimited use.

Some legal scholars argue that a better approach is that the interviewer and subject jointly create one work. Under that analysis, the interviewer and the subject are joint authors. In that case, either author can use the interview for any purpose provided that the party using the interview accounts to the other for any profits. If this approach were applied to your case, your use should be fine since you are distributing the interviews for free and (assuming you are not making money off the website) no accounting would be necessary. You can read more on these two approaches at the site. Also, as you are probably aware, if you proceed without permission, you would have a strong fair use argument for distributing these interviews based on their historic and scientific value.

The whole thing becomes more complicated if you are making money from the sale or licensing of the recordings -- a situation that may trigger a right of publicity claim or (if you and the subject are considered joint authors) an accounting of moneys earned to the interview subject. Finally, there is some question as to whether federal copyright protection extends to a recorded interview, since simultaneous recording of the performance of a work of authorship (that is, not being broadcast) is not considered to be fixed. That means that the interview is not protectable under copyright law (hence the need to use common law copyright, as described above). There's no guarantee that this will all play out as described. A lawyer would advise you that the only 100% safe course is to obtain permissions. But I think your chances of avoiding hassles are good and I personally look forward to listening to the interviews. There is always so much to learn about our scientific heroes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Orphan Works

Dear Rich: I have a question. I am an illustrator. Is it true that the government is setting up a database of visual arts works? And is it true that any works that you don't place on this register will become "orphan works" that anybody can use without your permission? I'm so glad you asked. The answers to your questions are "maybe," and "not exactly." An orphan work is one that is owned by a hard-to-find copyright owner. For example, in 1975, a child sends a drawing to Elvis Presley. In 2008, a biographer wants to include the drawing in a Presley biography. The problem is that the artist can't be found and the publisher doesn't want to reproduce the image without permission. Two bills have been proposed in Congress that address this issue. The proposed bills would allow the publisher -- after performing a diligent search -- to reproduce the image. If the artist later appears, the publisher would have to pay a reasonable fee for the use. An unlikely crew of special interests favor the House version of the bill, including librarians, free-speech types, copylefties, academics, writers, photographers, and big industry groups like the RIAA (and, of course, Google). Under the House bill, anyone who wants to use a work must (1) document their "good faith" search for the owner, (2) file a "Notice of Use" with the Copyright Office before using the work, (3) provide attribution if they know the name of the creator, and (4) include a special "orphan works" symbol when the work is published.

Illustrators and artists are concerned about the bill because it would establish a registry of visual arts works. They're worried that if a piece of artwork doesn't show up on a registry search, all rights to that artwork may be lost. First, keep in mind that orphan or not, copyright is always preserved in the work. Second, there's nothing in the law that says that a failure to appear in the registry automatically creates an orphan. For example, even if the drawing of Suda (above) did not appear in a registry, I would still have a hard time claiming it was an orphan ... since the artist and his work are easy to locate on the web (Steve, please don't sue).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Buying Domain Names

Dear Rich: I have a question. I've been buying domain names that are common misspellings of well-known online retailers and then setting up websites with Google Ads. So when someone types in the wrong spelling, they arrive at my site. Then, they can then click through to the correct company's site using a Google Ad. I got a letter from one of the companies telling me to take down my site and give up my domain name. Why? Sure, I make some money, but aren't I doing a good thing by leading people who misspell domain names to the right company? I'm so glad you asked. I can't tell you whether what you're doing is a 'good' thing or a 'bad' thing -- let's leave that up to the Dalai Lama -- but I can tell you that what you're doing is called typosquatting.
A typosquatter purchases misspellings of domain name in the hopes of catching and exploiting traffic intended for another website. (It's been a lucrative source of income for many years.) Typosquatting is a variation of cybersquatting and if the company whose name you're exploiting takes you to arbitration under international domain name arbitration rules and proves you're acting in bad faith, you'll have to give up the domain name. If the company takes you to court in the U.S. instead, you'll have to give up the name, and perhaps pay damages. Some companies guard against this practice by purchasing the misspellings, such as (sic). Others have to chase down violators and either buy the name back from the squatter or go after them with lawyers -- for example, Land's End went after a typosquatter who purchased domain names such as and and then demanded money for referring customers under the Land's End affiliate program. Nice scheme. (Land's End prevailed in the early stages of litigation, but so far, the company hasn't managed to acquire the domains.) Another unfortunate problem -- some unscrupulous typosquatters trigger malware. Arrivederci!