Journalism Ethics: Who owns the transcript?
September 26, 2005 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Journalism Ethics: Who owns the transcript?

I recently got to interview a fairly well-known musician for an article I'm doing for one of the local alt-weeklies. Having finished and submitted the article, I'd like to post the transcript of the interview to my personal website, because I think it makes for a pretty interesting read on its own. Is it ethical to do that, though? Does it make a difference if I make a good-faith effort to keep my personal posting from pre-empting the article (like, waiting until the article runs to post the interview, and including linkage to the article)?

I sort of snuck into journalism through the back door, and don't know as much about the ins and outs of these situations as I should.
posted by COBRA! to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No ethics problem -- the only question is whether the alt-weekly would get annoyed. Odds are no, unless your site is huge. You might just ask them if you want to be on the safe side.
posted by johngoren at 9:24 AM on September 26, 2005

I would advise that you not post it to your own site. If you'd written the article for your own site first, then you could keep all-rights-reserved (or some flavor of Creative Commons) and share the article with the weekly. As it is, unless you negotiated a "the work I do for you is mine" agreement first, then you would need to ask permission of the weekly to post it. Suggesting that they let you preempt the actual article will only make this stickier.

After all ... if people read it at your site, why would they pick up the actual magazine a week later?
posted by grabbingsand at 9:27 AM on September 26, 2005

It depends on the agreement you have with the alt-weekly. Some publications have agreements that say they get copyright over the finished article, some might request that you not publish on the same topic again for a number of days, etc. I'd ask them and see what they say. If it were me, I'd ask that you wait until after the article has been published.
posted by jzb at 9:27 AM on September 26, 2005

Local alt-weekly doesn't sound like they would care about a blog on the net, assuming, obviously, that your blog isn't local-interest.
posted by Goofyy at 9:48 AM on September 26, 2005

After all ... if people read it at your site, why would they pick up the actual magazine a week later?

Because they don't read the Web site. But it's smartest to wait until the article comes out and then post it online as a kind of "deleted extras" feature. I can't think of an alt-weekly that would complain.
posted by johngoren at 9:52 AM on September 26, 2005

This is more of a contractual issue than an ethical issue.

As others have said, the only way you're going to know whether the publication has a problem with it is by asking. If there's nothing in your contract that prohibits it but they are still hesitant, try pointing out that you can make it an attractive proposition for them -- say, like you said, linking to their site and waiting a reasonable period of time before you post it on your site.

If there's nothing in your contract that prohibits it and they don't buy your arguments in favor of it, it's up to you to decide whether it's worth stepping on their feet to put it up on your site.

Are you trying to drum up traffic for your personal site? Or are you truly just interested in sharing the information? I ask because if it's the latter, hell, maybe the publication will put it on its web site if it's as interesting as you say. And maybe if you approach it right, they'll pay you a little for it. Just an idea.
posted by veggieboy at 9:52 AM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: Assuming that the paper in question is willing to play ball, what about the other side? Like, Musician X did the interview for the paper; is it crossing a line for me to use that interview in a different context, then?

And thanks for the insights so far.
posted by COBRA! at 9:54 AM on September 26, 2005

Response by poster: Are you trying to drum up traffic for your personal site? Or are you truly just interested in sharing the information? I ask because if it's the latter, hell, maybe the publication will put it on its web site if it's as interesting as you say. And maybe if you approach it right, they'll pay you a little for it. Just an idea.

Well, some of both. Most of the information from the interview will appear on the publication's website as an adjunct to the article (which they're already paying me for). I'm certainly interested in drumming up traffic, but not in screwing anybody in the process.
posted by COBRA! at 9:59 AM on September 26, 2005

I think interview subjects ought to be used to the idea that freelancers are renegades whose stuff can show up anywhere, so I wouldn't worry about that end. All PR is good PR. Cut loose and leave the ethical doubts for writers who deserve to have them, like Victor Davis Hanson.
posted by johngoren at 10:13 AM on September 26, 2005

Does your contract say that they own the rights to the interview? If you have a contract at all, it probably says they merely own the article they accept from you. In fact, some smallish publications just accept articles without getting the writer to sign anything, meaning the writer still has rights to the entire work.
posted by acoutu at 10:53 AM on September 26, 2005

You own the rights. It's your interview, and as a fellow struggling freelancer, I encourage you to sell the living shit out of it. Just make sure that it's a new story every time, even if that means you're only changing a little bit of it.
posted by klangklangston at 11:12 AM on September 26, 2005

I work in the news biz and deal with copyright issues at times. You should be aware of the Tasini vs. New York Times case, in which the Supremes ruled that the web site of a print publication is not just an "edition" of the paper (as the NYT maintained) and that therefore when a paper buys something from a freelance writer for its print edition, that does not mean they also own the right to put it online without paying extra for that. (The case stemmed also from the fact that freelance material was being resold by the Times via Lexis-Nexis.) For this reason most papers have instituted detailed contracts with freelancers to spell out who owns what, and what rights are being purchased for how much.

If you do not have a contract (sounds like you don't, but you didn't answer that question), then the following is the case: The only thing they have bought is one-time print publication rights. You retain copyright. You retain the right to resell the same story to a different publication (ethically, of course with disclosure of prior publication). And you certainly retain the right to publish both the story and the transcript online. So if either of those is appearing on their website, make sure they pay you extra and separately for it. And you still have the right to put all of it up on your own site.
posted by beagle at 1:07 PM on September 26, 2005

... is it crossing a line for me to use that interview in a different context, then?

I see no ethical problem with posting the interview, as long as there are no contractual issues. Indeed, I imagine most "fairly well-known" musicians who give interviews to alt-weeklies would be grateful for the extra press.

I appreciate that you're being sensitive to your source here. More of us should act that way. To wit: the college paper columnist who was fired recently after telling folks she was working on one kind of story, and then taking their quotes out of context for an entirely different kind of piece. But you're not pulling that sort of bait-and-switch; you're not changing the context of what the musician said -- but rather expanding it and offering it in a different medium. I'd say you're in the clear.

You might sent him/her an email once it's up? (Saying something like, Thanks for the interview; I liked it so much I had to see our full conversation published -- link here.) Or maybe that's a bad idea. Dunno.
posted by donpedro at 3:20 PM on September 26, 2005

Beagle is mostly right, but notwithstanding Tasini that describes more accurately the pre-web reality for freelance writers than the current reality.

Back in the good old days when you sold an article, you sold the rights to first publication of the article only. In fact, the only really viable way to make a good living from writing for small papers was to respect the exact letter - and sell the same article or derivative articles to as many people who would pay. Doing so, esp if you had good access to bands and musicians and the like, one could make a very good living.

Since the web came along a lot of people on both sides have been scrambling. Weeklies (alt? I don't think so) wanted to put their contents online (and have, badly, for years) and tried to do so without paying for additional rights to the freelancer.

Tasini says that that's out of bounds as a general principle, but the papers got around that by forcing writers to agree to a new standard contract, and in my experience there's not a lot of leeway in those contracts. Papers are always free not to print your piece at all.

The problem for freelancers is clear - it's hard to re-sell a piece when it's on the web for the foreseeable future.

Derivative works - I see no problem at all with that and would encourage you to do it AFTER the initial publication of your article. But as others have stated, you should check out the contract you have. You should also get things straight right away with your editor that you want to sign and keep a copy of your contract so you can consult it, and make sure she/he sends you any amendments they want to make.

I have heard of (but I have no evidence of) papers that do try and suggest that they buy the work that went into the piece on a work-for-hire basis in which case they would theoretically own the article and any inputs. Although it's highly doubtful that this would be the case, better to be safe than sorry.
posted by mikel at 3:21 PM on September 26, 2005

(speaking as a freelance hack)

Who owns the transcript? You do.

Unless you sign something to the contrary, the copyright in all your work (and in all the interviews you do) resides with you. Thus, you are absolutely free to do whatever you want with the transcript of any interview you do. You might want to hold back publishing an interview transcript online, out of courtesy to the publication you've sold the final article to, but you are under no obligation to wait until they publish the piece you've submitted to them. I've put plenty of interview transcripts online, because, like you, I figured they'd be interesting, though generally, I've held back until the finished piece was published. That, though was more a matter of practicalities than anything else.

The Wire put some unedited transcripts online (see here for an example), when (presumably) they're granted by the author; however, when it all comes down to it, it's your material ...
posted by Len at 4:36 PM on September 26, 2005

there's not a lot of leeway in those contracts

Like beagle, I'm guessing COBRA! doesn't have a contract. Neither of the two alt weeklies I've written for ever had signed contracts for occasional contributors. (It would help to know for sure, COBRA!, so do you?)

Unless I was contractually obligated otherwise, I wouldn't *ask* the weekly if I could post the rest at my site. But I would *tell* them that's what I was going to do after the article ran, especially if I wanted to keep good relations with the paper for possible future work. But if most of the info was appearing at the paper's site anyway, I think I'd just link to that and ask them to include the full transcript. Seems like they're already into the idea of using the Web as an adjunct to print.

Also, if you want good relations with the subject (and who wouldn't?), be polite and let her/him know where the full interview will be posted.
posted by mediareport at 5:00 PM on September 26, 2005

How much do you want to write for this alt-weekly again? Ethics and contracts aside...editors are the ones who hire freelancers and if you want them to hire you in the future you're better off not pissing them off.
posted by awegz at 6:31 PM on September 26, 2005

And by "pissing off" I mean posting the interview before the article comes out or as it's coming out. After it's published I figure it's ok.
posted by awegz at 7:46 PM on September 26, 2005

« Older How to promote a fundraising effort online   |   Cat wants OUT Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.