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ASK US WEDNESDAY: “When do I own the transcript and when don’t I?”

by Leo Wiles
13 March 2019

Hi Leo and Rach, I have a question. I’m fairly new to media and I’d like to know, when do I own the transcript from an interview and when does it belong to the outlet? Chris

While determining who might own the transcript seems like a murky area, it’s really quite simple.

If you’re a wage slave…

Working in-house, it’s worth knowing that everything you generate (from either in the office or researching news feeds on your commute) are all the intellectual property of your employer. That’s unless you have an agreement – I’ve had this in the past, allowed to pitch ideas to Australian magazines that were of no interest to the Fleet St. newspaper I was working for. However, it was with the key understanding that all research, interviews and writing would be done on my own time at home, using my own laptop and phone.

If you were commissioned…

Who owns the right to an interview transcript when a commissioning editor generated the idea? Good question. Even if YOU chased down the PR, set up the interview, sat up til midnight to do the chat or flew half way round the world to meet the interviewee, the article, transcript and even the colourful anecdotes all belong to the person who signed off on your invoice.

That doesn’t mean to say you can’t have a chat with your editor and explain that there was another line of questioning that unearthed some great material about their love of cats that you’d like to pitch to Feline Monthly. But before you go down the route of holding back or on-selling quotes, read this to ensure you don’t end up blackballed.

If you pitched it yourself…

So you came up with an earth shattering idea in the middle of the night, harnessed the all-important interview via a PR or other means, and now you’re good to go with ten different angles. Well done you! Technically, you own the transcript… but you still need to tread carefully.

If you do intend to carve up the interview ten different ways, then you better make sure that those ideas are completely unique, targeted to different niches, outlets, with no information or angle cross-over (and that’s just to keep the outlets happy).

You also morally and ethically should stay true to the agreement you had with the agent and or interviewee (especially if you want to keep them in your experts file and work with them again). Ensure you run those additional stories past them so they can veto if need be. If you don’t, you could be burning future bridges as the B list celebrity of today ends up at the Oscars tomorrow and that agent you singed could end up working on to die for accounts that you won’t have access to.

Are you good at carving up interviews and on-selling other stories? We’d love to hear your thoughts…

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

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