In the US, two speakers have a public debate. It is free of charge to all who show up at the public venue. No one is paid anything but (possibly) expenses such as travel. Any additional expenses for the debate like venue rental are paid for by a third party. There was no contract or verbal agreement regarding money beyond that the debaters would be there at a certain time and place.

The first debater arranges for the debate to be audio recorded, and afterward posts the recording for sale online for $13. An indirect inquiry by the second debater who desires to share the recording for free on his own site receives the answer that the first debater is asserting copyright and the recording can't be shared for free.

  1. Who owns the copyright to this recording?
  2. Can the second debater share the recording (obtained by paying $13) for free legally? And give rights to others to copy it further?
  3. Is the second debater able to legally demand half of the profits?

3 Answers 3


Copyright is held by the person who puts the content out there in fixed form. If A reads a prepared text and B talks extemporaneously, A has copyright to his fixed text. Whoever then records the debate holds copyright to B's talk (not a typo). If that person is B, A can point out that A's copyright was infringed, presumably leading B to an equitable arrangement that would avoid copyright violation litigation. However, if the recorder is A, then B is hosed. On the other hand, if neither party has a prepared text, then the guy who does the recording has all the rights. And if both parties have prepared texts, nobody gets to record without a copyright agreement.

  • So it really is all about the first person to commit their thoughts or words to paper, digitization, or any other representation?
    – ErikE
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 2:56
  • Well, it's specifically about being in fixed form. The content doesn't actually have to represent thoughts, but assuming there are thoughts, then it has to be a specific representation.
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 4:54
  • I'm unconvinced that you get copyright on someone else's words just by recording them - can you cite a source?
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 4:04
  • Baltimore Orioles, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Players Asso., 805 F.2d 663; Time Inc. v. Bernard Geis Associates, 293 F. Supp. 130 esp. part III; Taggart v. WMAQ Channel 5 Chicago
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 5:13

The person who made - or contracted to make - the recording, person A as the rights. If person B had also made a recording, they would have been able to use their own recording, but they do not have the right to person A's recording.

  • This post offers next to little information to answer the question. To add to that, your first sentence is wrong! User6726's answer provides much more detail and is accurate
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 14:48
  • @Zizouz212 - rather the dogging me just to criticise my posts, how about adding how you assert this post is wrong? Yes, user6726’s post provides more detail and is a good answer, but its also harder to understand, and spends most time addressing something that was not actually asked - a debate does not typically comprise. prepared text. Again, its an excellent answer - but that does not make it the only good answer.
    – davidgo
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 19:27
  • Your omitting the third question. Point off. The contractor of a recording does not get copyright of the work, unless there is an explicit agreement. You're omitting too many important details
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 19:31

Actually pretty good answers. Even if the speakers read from manuscripts there is a secondary issue of whether their texts are separate works or whether they should be treated as co-owners of the entire text of the debate. This has direct bearing on whether a third party must obtain a licensing agreement from both speakers or just one of the joint owners. Under common law one joint owner can use and license the work without the express permission of the other owner; however, the first owner must give the other an accounting (ie split the profits) unless they have a written agreement to the contrary. However, the third party who obtained a license from one of the owners is not liable to either owner beyond any licensing fee, if any, paid.

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