“I Didn’t Know!” (Or, Why You Need the Interview Agreement) by Judith A. Yates

Your book is published! You are marketing, sales are growing steadily, and happy readers abound. Then you get a notice: one of the people you interviewed is saying they did not permit you to publish their words. Cease and desist; their attorney has your contact information. Do you have an Interview Agreement signed by this angry person? Now is not a good time to wonder if you legally covered yourself …

Before you interview anyone, have them sign an “Interview Agreement” (IA). Obtain these documents from an attorney, or create one. An IA is documentation between an author and another person that 1. Informs the person the author may use their information, and by their signing it, the person agrees. 2. Allows the author to disclose the information and use it through the person’s consent; 3. Is a contract between the author and the person that legally permits you to quote the person. *

Obtain an IA from everyone you interview at length. Some sources do not want to sign, particularly if they ask to remain anonymous. Document the person granted permission to be interviewed, including date, time, and place (address) and method of interview (telephone, online, in person, email, etc.):

On May 5, 2020, I (Author Jones) interviewed Mulesfoot, Texas Police Investigator Arnold McCop, in person at Jackson’s, 123 Main Street, Mulesfoot, TX, 5 AM to 7 AM (CST). At this time, McCop gave me verbal permission to use the interview for my book, “ABCs of PD.”

Be careful when writing an Interview Agreement. Numerous examples of IA templates are online. You should also consult with fellow authors about IAs. Consider whom you are interviewing, and this can determine the IA’s language, so the person understands. Examples:

“My signature below is proof that I hereby consent to the recording of my statements and grant (the author) the right to copy, reproduce, and use any and all portions of my statements for incorporation into the author’s work.”

“By signing this form, I give permission to be interviewed by the author. Any information I give may be published.”

Both caveats are the same, but someone without a grasp of the former example’s language may return to say they did not understand. No one wants a legal battle or (in one case I know of) fear for their safety because someone is angry that you used their words “without permission.” When in doubt, use the secondary example – the easiest to read and understand.

I advise:

  1. Carry several IAs with you when you work. Sometimes one interview can lead to unscheduled interviews.
  2. I always record the person signed and dated the IA in my notes.
  3. Give a copy to the person who signs.
  4. Always explain to the person what they are signing and why you need it. If they won’t sign but still agree to the interview, be gracious (and add this fact in your notes).

“Interview Agreements” are a tool used to prevent future headaches and heartache. In a court of law, your notes may be seized as evidence; as such, they are a legal document. IAs should be understood by the person signing. Document anything about the IA, i.e., you gave copies. Should the person you interviewed return to complain after the book is on the shelf, you’ll be glad you have this record.

Judith A. Yates is a Silver Falchion winner for “Best True Crime” and a true crime author & criminologist. She has conducted hundreds of interviews and has taught interview techniques for over fifteen years. For more information, visit www.judithayates.com.

*This is not legal advice. It is always best to consult with an attorney in any legal matter.