Recording, Consent and Copyrights: What We Need To Know*

– by Gio Lester

*This article was originally posted on September 21, 2012. It seems just as timely now as it did then. – Gio

During a conference assignment, not too long ago, I was confronted with a very uncomfortable situation. Unbeknownst to the team of interpreters, the company that had hired us made arrangements for recording our work. Fortunately, it was not our first time in those waters, and we knew how to tread them.

But I remember the first time I found myself in that situation. It was over 20 years ago, here in the At work US, and I could not understand why my colleagues were so upset. Well, I got an ear-full and learned a valuable lesson. I am bringing that up because many novices are unaware of the important groundwork already laid for them with regard to professional standards and copyrights.

So, let’s get straight to the point: Why isn’t it okay for the company that hired you to record your voice? Well, a few things happen to the sound of your voice on its way to the recording medium.

ASTM InternationalAccording to the ASTM International* guidelines (F-2089-01, section 10.13, page 7), “Any recording of the interpretation changes the very nature of the interaction by adding on a future, and perhaps different, use of the interpreter’s product.”  The bit about “adding a future” surprised me a little. I was at first concerned with misspoken numbers and the like, then that phrase caught my attention to the purpose of the recording, possible future uses, etc. This reminded me of Henrietta Lacks who had her cancer cells (HeLa cells) collected, used for research, distributed and commercialized all over the world without her consent or knowledge or financial benefit.

But, I still was not sure of what my rights were or where they stemmed from. Researching the AIIC (Association Internationale des Interprétes de Conférence) website I found the full explanation. Knowledge really is a powerful weapon. In the interpreters’ case, when a recording is involved, the keywords are “consent” and “copyright.”

Most times, the person working directly with the interpreters at the event is not aware that recording our voices is a violation of our rights, and they simply think they are keeping their customer happy without any further consequences.

Through AIIC, I learned that “The performance of conference interpreting is protected by international law.” And the Berne Convention stipulates that when committed to fixed media of any nature, the performance of the conference interpreter becomes a translation and its author has exclusive rights. The protection of the author’s copyrights is the main purpose of those rules.

Does that mean recording and/or transcription of our work is forbidden? No. Both ASTM and AIIC are clear on that point — here enters the second keyword, consent. ASTM (F-2089-01, 10.13, page 7) states “When commercial use of any recording is contemplated, questions of intellectual property rights may be involved… all parties involved should be consulted beforehand when a recording of a meeting is being considered.”  Furthermore, AIIC’s standard contract has language that addresses the issue by stating that the interpretation is provided “…solely for direct and immediate use by the listeners; no recording may be made, either by the listeners or anyone else, without the prior consent of the interpreters concerned.

So, we go back to the HeLa cells case mentioned above in which consent and knowledge were missing. ASTM International and AIIC are working to prevent third parties from benefiting — financially or otherwise– from the work of interpreters, without their consent or knowledge.

Once all parties involved in a contract are aware that recording will take place, special accommodations can be made to ensure that it is all done properly – from the speaker’s speed, terminology research, type of equipment used, to the languages used (I have had presenters insist on speaking “Portuñol” – a Portuguese/Spanish hybrid – and my colleagues in the Spanish booth walked out). There is also an added fee owed the interpreters for the transfer of copyrights to the client.

How did my recent assignment end up with regard to the translation? I sent all the reference material I mentioned above to the agency that hired me and we renegotiated my fee.

Knowledge is power.


*ASTM International is the former American Society for Testing and Materials.

1. Publication ASTM F-2089-01 – 10.13; pg 7 –

10.13  Recording of the Interpretation—Any recording of the interpretation changes the very nature of the interaction by adding on a future, and perhaps different, use of the interpreter’s product. When commercial use of any recording is contemplated, questions of intellectual property rights may be involved. For all of these reasons, all parties involved should be consulted beforehand when a recording of a meeting is being considered.

2. AIIC:

20 thoughts on “Recording, Consent and Copyrights: What We Need To Know*”

  1. Ana Helena Lopes says:

    Very good information Gio!
    Nothing like having the right sources to refer to when it comes to negotiate interpreting fees.
    Last year I worked in a conference and at the very last day the organizers came with a recording consent form for us to sign it. We couldn’t believe it. My partner and I agreed to sign it, however we did not receive the extra charge that we are entitled to.
    I have been recently hired for another conference with the same client in October. It’s been through a different agency and before I sent my rates I clearly explained to the recruiter what had happened last year regarding recording our interpretation. I already received the PO with no extra recording charge stipulated on it. I am sure that the first thing I will do when I arrive to the conference site is double check on that and have all these referral materials on hand. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Gio Lester says:

    Good luck negotiating your rights. I love AIIC’s language restricting the use of the interpreted material.

  3. Jennifer De La Cruz says:

    This is such an amazing piece to post here for people in just this situation! Good information to have available!

    1. Gio Lester says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. When I had needed it and could not find it in one place. I thought others might need it too.

    2. Salo Salman says:

      As Video Remote Interpretation becomes mainstream more industry guidance is needed in this regard to see to it that linguists are treated fairly. As far as how compensation should be calculated one important question when transfering copyrights to the client would be for if the recording will be used for commencial ends.

      But still the following questions arise.

      How should such compensation be calculated and collected?



      The industry was able to establish a 2 hour minimum, so perhaps an industry standard for interpreter recordings is in order. Or perhaps there already is one that I am not aware of.

  4. Maha El-Metwally says:

    Hello Gio,

    Thank you for a very useful article. What would you do if you discover at the end of the conference that there has been a webstreaming of the interpreting?

    1. Gio Lester says:

      Maha, I can only speak about it on a personal level. I would approach the client with the information above (AIIC and ASTM standards) and inform the client he was in breach of our agreement and liable for the extra fees due the interpreters. But, I’d do so in writing, with proof of the webstreaming attached – name of who disclosed it and a singed statement (if possible), or download it (had to be from their website or a site maintained by them to establish a link) and attach the recording/file to the message. The main problem here is I see very little in terms of protection to us, the professionals. How are these rules/guidelines/standards to be enforced? What are the liabilities to the transgressors? I am not familiar with any.

  5. Gio Lester says:

    Maha, I another thing: webstreaming is not the same as recording. As long as there is nothing extra requested of you and no recording is being made, I do not see the issue. I have participated in a conference during which a session was being webcast to Brazil and we held an engaging 30-minute Q&A.Getting that instant feedback from the questions and answers was very rewarding.

    Again, this is my personal position. When those standards and guidelines were created I do not think webstreaming was yet a reality. Growth can be challenging in every level.

  6. AJ Elterman says:

    Thank you, Gio, fot this very useful information for interpreters.
    How would one deal with agencies that have a clause in their standard Independent Contractor Agreement to the effect that all translation work shall be the intellectual property of the Company, i.e. to be considered a product of work for hire? Some language service providers/agencies work with both translators and interpreters and this issue may easily be overlooked. I have not checked the AIIC site on this yet.
    And you are right about enforcement, especially in non-European countries.
    This issue goes deeper the more you think.

    1. Gio Lester says:

      Oh, I have encountered those. My solution was to write to the companies and tell them I had an issue with clause# and discuss how we could resolve that.

      It is their right to want it. It is our right to protect our interests.

      About two months ago I was having a conversation with a colleague who manages a good size translation agency (recently sold) and when I mentioned the Berne Convention the conversation ended. She was defending the assignment of copyrights by the translator, including the TM, to the agency.

      I have refused work when companies don’t budge. The TM is not the hard part – anyone can recreate it, so why don’t they? I visualize the problem as if they think we are part of the office furniture and the work we do is just a bunch of words and not the result of a creative process, and unique in its own right.

      The only solution is dialogue. We have the service, they have the money; ewe have bills, they have clients. There’s got to be a common ground in this scenario.

  7. AMatilsky says:

    Thanks Gio! Very interesting. Does this apply in all venues, such as court interpreting?

  8. Gio Lester says:

    Hi Athena. Nothing I read indicates that it could apply to court interpreting. The copyright issue applies to commercial interpreting and court interpreting is, by its very nature, non-commercial. However, interpreting at depositions – especially video recorded instances when the recording is being performed for the benefit and will be delivered to the attorneys – then it applies.

    The logic being that this is a commercial service and the video can be used at interviews, media broadcasting, etc. I have colleagues who charge extra for video recorded depositions. I imagine that the court reporting firms do to.

  9. Mora says:

    Hi Gio! How about a city council meeting recording? I was asked to interpret and record myself for a city council meeting podcast. This is new and I’m not sure if it is abide by the same rule. Basically, they record the meeting and give that recording to me to interpret and record my voice so that they can edit and publish it in a different language in a podcast.

    1. Gio Lester says:

      Hi, Mora! I would charge the going rate for voice-over. Normally, that is done in a studio and you have the opportunity to do do-overs (correct yourself), great quality equipment and someone monitoring your output, making sure the input is at the level required and making adjustments to compensate. Also, the norm is to have the material transcribed, translated and then read into the mike.

      Things are changing and I am not sure we have anyone working on standards for that practice yet. but, I would charge the fees for voice over – they are per second and based on the medium. You can see an example here:

  10. Hi Giovanna, I was researching on recording and copyrights in interpreting today, and I came across this excellent article and realised it was yours! Thank you, also, for your contribution the other day on Twitter re: dos and donts on common problem of absent prep material. I thought to let you know, taking opportunity, that I plan to write a report on the result of the poll and its discussions, as it attracted much more attention than I first expected and it would be a shame to leave it without making it into something useful for the community. Once again, thank you for providing such a helpful and practical information! Rie

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