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  1. I recently came across a New York Times article about Peter Thiel which contained several quotes by him. The quotes seem to have been from comments Thiel made directly to a New York Times reporter.
  2. I then came across this USA Today article, which contains those same quotes. The article mentions that Thiel was speaking to the New York Times and links to the NYT.

My questions are: Are those quotes covered by copyright? If so, does Thiel own them? Or the NYT? Or both? In other words, was the USA Today's use of those quotes legally-protected? Or is it more of a "friendly arrangement" between the two news organizations?

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The easy part is whether there is copyright protection: yes. It does not matter whether the quotes are in a newspaper, a personal blog, a hardbound book, or on TV; it doesn't matter if the interviewee is right-wing or left-wing or wingless. An interview is protected by copyright. The question is, who holds that right, and in what exact manner? The interview could be a collaborative work; it could be a joint work; it could be the property of the interviewer.

In Taggart v. WMAQ, the court points out that for a work to be protected (sect. 101 of the copyright act), it must be

‘fixed’ in a tangible medium of expression ... or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.

which interviews are not (assuming the answers were not pre-written). See also Falwell v. Penthouse.

The interviewer would own copyright to the compilation of quotes, see for example Quinto v. Legal Times of Washington

Regardless of who owns the copyright in each of the quoted passages in the article, there can be no doubt that Quinto owns the copyright in his compilation of the quotations

As to ownership of the quotes themselves, Suid v. Newsweek Magazine observes that

The author of a factual work may not, without an assignment of copyright, claim copyright in statements made by others and reported in the work since the author may not claim originality as to those statements

and Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 likewise states that

an author may not claim copyright in statements made by others and reported verbatim in the author's work

What we get from this is that the interviewee cannot claim infringement by the interviewer (they could however claim some form of breach of contract, depending on what the parties agreed to in carrying out the interview), that the interviewer does own copyright of the interview, but not the specific quotes from the interviewee. This leaves unanswered a core question: can an interviewee claim control over their quotes and deny permission to reproduce the quotes? An alternative would be that the quotes are "data" which are in the public domain. I find the latter outcome extremely unlikely, but at any rate, I know of no case law on point.

  • I don't think the quotes are "data" for copyright purposes (otherwise everything would be data - "Rowling wrote a book with the following contents" is factually true, but wouldn't get you out of an infringement claim.) But, the use of quotes in news reporting would probably be fair use, so the person being quoted couldn't suppress them on copyright grounds. – D M Jun 13 '18 at 17:03

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