Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wants to Post Debt Collector Voicemail

Dear Rich: I'm a blogger and want to post a voicemail that a debt collector left on my answering machine. Can I get in trouble for posting that? Maybe, but we think it's unlikely.
Consent to recording. The first legal issue is whether the recording was made with consent. By its nature, a voicemail implies consent because the caller knows that a recording is being made of the message. If it was a recording of a conversation (not a voicemail), you would need one or both parties consent, depending on in which state you're making the recording. For example, California is a two-party consent state so both parties would have to consent to the recording.
Have you "injured" someone? Publicly posting the debt collector's voicemail could possibly trigger tort claims. It's possible that the caller may defame some third party, or alternatively, when you write about the caller, you defame the debt collector. It's also possible, though a little farfetched, that the debt collector could claim you have caused an invasion of privacy (which would be a strange role reversal). Your liability can be limited by making sure that the individual speaking, the employer (the debt collection company), or any of the parties involved, are not identified. In any case, the odds of a debt collector proceeding with a lawsuit in this situation are slim and chances of success for the collector's potential claims don't seem that good.
What about copyright? Who owns the copyright in a recorded phone message? Most likely the debt collector although we agree with attorney Emily Bass that there is no "clear answer." So, assuming there is sufficient originality in the voicemail, the debt collector could claim copyright infringement. Like the tort claims mentioned above, this would be a long shot for the debt collector.

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