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I am writing a non-fiction book based on recorded interviews with several people. I have recorded verbal consent to be interviewed for the book from each person. One of the interviewees has since published his own book about the story he discussed with me. I have supplied written transcripts of the interviews to each person for review/clarification. I have not heard back from the one individual for almost a month and when I finally did make contact he was very abrupt, said he's been "very, very busy, and he was going to review it 'this week'." That was over a week ago and I have heard nothing.

Since I have recorded verbal permission and acknowledgement in his interview, can I legally move forward with his story as is or do I need to also have written permission? The other interviewees have signed a release and acknowledgment form, etc.

His story is a compelling one and would be a terrific inclusion for the book. I am confused about his reaction because when I told him I had completed the transcript he was eager to review it. He was very cooperative up to this point and at one time he asked if I would be interested in collaborating on his book. If he has changed his mind for whatever reason he has not indicated that to me verbally or in writing and his reaction is open to interpretation, which I prefer to avoid. A direct answer would be appreciated and I can move forward from there.

Thank you for any guidance you can provide.

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A suggestion: Answers that avoid speculating about the topic would be much stronger. –  Neil Fein Sep 14 '12 at 19:17

2 Answers 2

Ask a lawyer, really, do it. Here are none.

The "right" answer depends on so many details. For example a verbal contract is binding in Germany. You have not mention where you are from, where your interviewee lives and so on.

Having the permission is one thing. The other is compensation. Have you paid him something? Are you going to do it? Just because you have permission to use it, does not mean you get it for nothing. If you haven't negotiated the topic, then it could be that some general rule exists how much is paid. And you interviewee knows that and you don't. So ask a lawyer.

He indicated a collaboration, so I guess the monetary part wasn't done for him. You have to dissolve the uncertainty which means you have to contact him. Personally or by a lawyer.

So if he is busy (maybe someone died in his family) and you are afraid he changes his mind if you press him, then wait a little bit longer. Write a polite mail in two months asking if he has time to review it. If you do not have that time for what reason whatsoever, be prepared for disappointment.

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Again, not a lawyer, but do you really need permission if you are writing a book about someone?

So if I write a book about Obama, and interview his friends, do I need their and Obama's permission? As long as you don't claim to be the "Official version", I'm not sure why you would need permission. Journalists routinely interview people, and even publish books based on these. And they don't ask everyone for written or verbal permission, do they? The only thing to avoid is misrepresenting them, or making false claims.

If you were required to take permission every time you interviewed someone and wrote about them, we would never have investigative journalism, as no one would give permission to be criticised.

Am I missing something? If so, please modify the question to add details.

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