“Excuse me, interpreter, we will record your rendition”.

January 22, 2018 § 15 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

A few months ago I came back to the booth after a break during an event I was interpreting and I found my boothmate talking to one of the conference attendees. He was asking for her permission to bring a digital recorder inside the booth because he wanted to record the interpretation of the conference. Before my colleague responded, I explained to the gentleman that recording an interpreter rendition is more complex than simply asking the interpreter.  I told him that it would not be possible to record us, and I asked him to talk to the event organizers who would work on all clearances and legal documents needed before anything could be recorded to be played back at a later time.  He understood my polite negative, picked up his microphone and recording devise, and exited the booth.

Once we were alone, my boothmate told me she did not know that anything other than our consent was needed. She told me that often, other organizers and agencies had recorded her rendition without even asking for her permission. I was very surprised.

The United States and many other countries have enacted legislation that protect intellectual property. There are also international conventions to protect patents, trademarks, and copyrights covering tangible and intangible products discovered, invented, or created by the human mind. The use and exploitation of this intellectual property without the authorization of the author violates law and perpetrators are subject to both criminal and civil liability.

Only after the author, or legal holder, of an intellectual property right has consented to its use or exploitation this can be manufactured, sold, printed, reproduced, or used. Because the protected intellectual property is the work product of an individual, this inventor, creator, or author must be compensated. Such compensation is called royalties.

American legislation defines royalties as “…a percentage of gross or net profit, or a fixed amount per sale to which a creator of a work is entitled which is agreed upon in a contract between the creator and the manufacturer, publisher, agent, and/or distributor. “ Inventors, authors, movie makers, music composers, scriptwriters, musicians, interpreters, translators, and other creators of an intellectual product , contract with manufacturers, publishers, movie production companies, producers, event organizers, agents, and distributors to be paid royalties in exchange for a license or authorization to manufacture or sell the product. Royalties are payments made by one entity (the licensee) to another entity (the licensor) in exchange for the right to use intellectual property or physical assets owned by the licensor.

In a situation like the one I describe above, the speaker at the podium is the author of the knowledge and information he is disseminating among the attendees to the conference. He owns that intellectual property. The interpreters in the booth are the authors of the content in the target language of the knowledge and information the speaker at the podium disseminated in the source language. Both, the speaker (in the source language) and the interpreters (in the target language) would be licensors to the attendee who requested the recording when he went to the booth. This individual would be the licensee to the speaker as far as the knowledge and information disseminated by the speaker during the speech, and for the elocution of the contents in the source language. He would also be the licensee to the interpreters for the rendition of the speech into the foreign (signed, or indigenous) target language.

The attendee would need, at least, the authorization of the speaker to record the presentation in the source language, and the consent of both, speaker and interpreters to record the presentation in the target language. Attendee would need to negotiate the payment of royalties with speaker and interpreters, and all licensors would need to be compensated for the use of their intellectual property.

It could be more complicated; the speaker may have partners who coauthored the paper he is presenting; a university, government, or other entity may be the legal holder to the intellectual property rights because of a contractual agreement between the speaker and his sponsors.  The interpreters could have negotiated the sale of their intellectual property (the rendition into the target language) to the agency that retained them, the main speaker, the university, government or other entity who sponsored the research, or any other party legally entitled to said intellectual property.  It is never as simple as letting the attendee record your rendition.

Years ago, interpreters would get to the booth, and whenever there were no speakers of the target language they were there to interpret, they would just sit in the booth doing very little. There were no “customers” for their intellectual product.  This has changed. Now often interpreters must interpret into their target language even if there are no speakers in the room, because there may be others virtually attending the presentation from a remote location, or because the speech, and its interpretation into several target languages, will be sold to others who could not attend the live event.

For this reason interpreters must know of the event organizer’s plans. If there will be a video or audio recording of the presentation, we must negotiate royalties. Those fees belong to us, not to the speaker or the event organizer; and they do not belong in the pockets of the agency that hired us to do the conference. As interpreters we must be very careful of what we sign. Speaker and event organizer may be paying royalties to the agency for the recording, and the interpreting agency may not be passing these payments on to you, the rightful owner.

Interpreters can negotiate this intellectual property rights. They can sell them to a third party if they wish to do so. They can even transfer them for free. It is up to the skill and business mind of the interpreter to decide what to do, but we must know that we can negotiate; that we are in the driver’s seat. I would allow no type of recording of my work unless I get paid royalties. How I negotiate payment, how to calculate them, and whether or not I will settle for a lump payment or a recurring payment every time the recording is sold, will depend on the content, and my long term relationship with that client.

Please do not ignore your intellectual property rights. The United States Code, Code of Federal Regulations, and other legislation will protect us in the U.S., but when working abroad, and even when the work product (recorded rendition) will be sold abroad, or the licensee entity is a foreign national, check local legislation and look for any international treaty. Finally, regardless of the location of the job, always include an intellectual property/payment of royalties clause in your interpreting services contract. At the minimum you should prohibit any recording of your rendition without your written consent.

I now invite you to leave your comments and to share your experiences with this issue that will be more pervasive every day.

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§ 15 Responses to “Excuse me, interpreter, we will record your rendition”.

  • You appear to be so far ahead in the US in terms visibility of the profession an this is confirmed through such regulation. In the UK, the struggle is half-hearted at best.

  • giolester says:

    “Those fees belong to us, not to the speaker or the event organizer; and they do not belong in the pockets of the agency that hired us to do the conference. As interpreters, we must be very careful of what we sign.”

    Well said, Tony. Your article goes hand-in-hand with one I published a few years ago – Recording, Consent and Copyrights – What We Need to Know. Many newcomers are unaware of the issues surrounding royalties. Thank you for writing this.

  • Julia Poger says:

    Thanks Tony, for a very clear explanation of why we are paid for our copyright. In Europe we are also paid for recording our voice, and rates range from 50-100% of the daily fee.

    There are only two exceptions that I know of:

    – when the recording is being used for strictly internal reasons, such as the record of a meeting.

    – this isn’t strictly recording, but for broadcast. In the UN organization, for example, when meetings are simulcast, they have negotiated with AIIC to allow that simulcast with no extra fees, but they are required to post a disclaimer, along the lines of the following:

    The interpretation of proceedings serves to facilitate communication and does not constitute an authentic or verbatim record of the proceedings. Only the original speech is authentic. No liability shall be incurred by the interpreter in the exercise of his/her functions.

  • Jade Jiang says:

    Thank you to write about this educational topic on the intellectual property rights. We all need to know it to protect our rights.

  • Emeline Revel says:

    Very interesting article, thank you for this!
    It has never happened to me, and I am curious: once you explain that it is part of your intellectual property and mention your right to being paid royalties, do they usually accept or refuse to do it?

  • Carolyn says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for these very insightful comments. I was wondering what the answer would be if we are working for an NGO, that is doing medical work in the world in order to free the world of a disease. I have worked for such organizations and they always record both renditions of the conference, in order to draft minutes as well as documents that will later be used in other parts of the world. I find it difficult to muddle these details, thanks for your insight.

  • Susana Gee says:


    Thank you for this well researched and useful article. I will keep it handy for future events.

  • Maria Galetta says:

    Thank you Tony for such a comprehensive recap of the regulations surrounding the recording of an interpreter during a conference. Great to keep as a reference.
    I am aware of only one exception, i.e. interpreting in court or during a deposition, when the interpreter’s rendition into English is recorded for the benefit of the court reporter, and on video (if one is being made in case it will be played for the judge, or the jury later on). In that case I believe the consent of the interpreter to be recorded is a given. Am I correct?

    • You are right, Maria. A voice or video recording of a court hearing or a deposition is not part of the subject matter of this post. A court recording is the record of a hearing, not a recording to be reproduced later for a commercial or educational purpose. This post is applicable to conference interpreting.

  • Didier Fourcot says:

    An easy reply:
    would you go to a newspaper stand and ask “would you mind lending me this newspaper or book, I will just photocopy it”?
    Some conferences have an entry fee, some newspapers are free, but the concept of IP applies to both: you are allowed to hear or read, not to keep a copy that you could resell.

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