Should Your Interview Subjects Sign a Release?

Q: When interviewing someone for an article or a book, do I need to have the interviewee sign a release form so I can use his or her quotes? —Jack B.

As long as you identify yourself as a writer and let the interviewee know you are gathering information that may be published somewhere, you usually don’t need any kind of written release form. Most interviews cover general topics and won’t cause anyone to think twice about getting quoted in print. Heck, I’ve been interviewed dozens of times and have never been asked to sign anything—which is good, because I have a terribly ugly signature.

There are a few occasions in which a document may be necessary, though, particularly when discussing extremely sensitive or controversial material. At the time of the interview the subject could verbally agree to take part, but if the piece comes off as “unfriendly,” he could change his mind and attempt to sue you for libel or invasion of privacy. If that’s a concern, be sure to record your interview so you have the quotes on record, and also go to Google and search “interview release form.” This brings up a number of free forms you can print and have signed.

If you aren’t able to access one of these forms but still need something in writing, find a piece of paper and write, “I consent to the use of my statements in XYZ magazine/book.” Have the person sign it. This isn’t ideal, but it will provide some legal protection should you need it.

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