Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – correspondence and interviews

Letters, Email, and Other Written Correspondence

Letters, emails, journals, diaries, and other forms of written correspondence may be registered if they contain a sufficient amount of copyrightable expression and if the claimant owns the copyright in that material. When submitting an application to register these types of works, the applicant should limit the claim to the text, artwork, and/or photographs that appear in the work.

As a general rule, the author of the correspondence – not the recipient – should be named as the copyright claimant. The fact that a person owns or possesses the original copy of a letter, a journal, diary, or other material object does not give that person the right to claim copyright in that work, even if the material object was purchased or found. A party that has obtained all of the rights under copyright that initially belonged to the author may be named as the copyright claimant for a letter, email, journal, diary, or other written correspondence.

Ownership of the copyright in a work, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, is distinct from the ownership of any material object in which the work has been fixed. A transfer of ownership involving a material object does not convey any rights in the copyrighted work, nor does the transfer of ownership of a copyright convey any property rights in any material object (absent a written agreement to that effect). When completing the application, the applicant should provide a brief transfer statement explaining how the claimant obtained the copyright in the work.

In some cases, journals, diaries, letters, or other written correspondence may be published with new material that introduces, illustrates, or explains the work, such as forewords, afterwords, footnotes, annotations, or the like. This type of material may be registered as a derivative work if it contains a sufficient amount of original authorship.

Interviews

An interview is a written or recorded account of a conversation between two or more individuals. Typically, the interviewer poses a series of questions that elicit a response from the interviewee(s). An interview may be registered if the conversation has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression and if it contains a sufficient amount of creative expression in the form of questions and responses.

Specifically, an interview may be registered as a literary work if it has been fixed in a written transcript, an audio recording, a video recording, or other medium of expression. An interview may be registered as a work of the performing arts if the interview was performed or is intended to be performed before an audience, such as a television interview, radio interview, or onstage interview.

The U.S. Copyright Office will assume (draft) that the interviewer and the interviewee own the copyright in their respective questions and responses unless (i) the work is claimed as a joint work, (ii) the applicant provides a transfer statement indicating that the interviewer or the interviewee transferred his or her rights to the copyright claimant, or (iii) the applicant indicates that the interview was created or commissioned as a work made for hire.