Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-6

In Oral History Contracts, Commitment Is One-sided

Interviewed and adjusted by Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Following our discussion of Material Intellectual Property Rights of oral history works and the note of A Heritage With No Legal System, we discussed with Sooreh Mehr PublicationsFatehan PublicationsSooreh Sabz Publications, Dr. Abolfazl Hasanabadi, and Dr. Mouloud Sotoudeh. Now, we have a conversation with “Masoumeh Jafarzadeh”, one of the active oral practitioners in East Azarbaijan. “House of Revolution: The Role of Tabriz Bazaar in Victory of the Islamic Revolution [in Persian: Saray-e Enghelab: Naghsh Bazar Tabriz dar Pirouzi Enghelab Eslami]”, “Hell of the Green Valley: Memories of General Gorban Ali Pashaei [in Persian: Jahanam-e Sabz: Khaterat Sardar Ghorban Ali Pashaei]”, and "An Alley Which Wasn’t Named for Him: Narratives of Lives of Armenian Martyrs Qaijaq Davtyian, Herach Hambarsonias, and William Averand" are among his works in the field of oral history:

*It seems that the works you have worked on so far in the field of oral history have been weighty and long-term projects. Did the customer take special measures to protect your material rights?

I started the interviews for the book “House of Revolution” in 2016. Of course, before me, someone had an interview for about 2 hours and was up in the air for almost 6 months. At that time, I was working on the book “An Alley Which Wasn’t Named for Him” and I was busy with final stages of the work. They told me to finish this project and there is no more time left. I took interviews round the clock for the book “House of Revolution”. Sometimes I interviewed for 10 hours a day. It would take from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then I would implement and rewrite the initial parts at the end of the night. Finally, I finished the book “House of Revolution” intensively in 3 months. We prepared the interviews and sent them to Hozeh Honari in Tehran. The text was accepted and I edited rest of the book. Finally, after two evaluations, it got permission to print. I received only 55 million IRR (~106 USD) for the book that I spent almost two years of my time on. For so much energy and time, this is really trivial amount of money.

*What is your suggestion for setting up long-term projects? For example, take the time pressure off for the interviewer and the compiler or change the amount received based on the time spent?

My suggestion is that at least the contracts should be fair. The customer only sees a completed work, but does not see backstage of the book. The hourly contract of 1500000 IRR (~ 3 USD) for the interview does not cover travel expenses, purchase of paper and batteries, and hours of implementation. What is left for a researcher that is at least worth spending time?! We spend time and energy on satisfying the narrator for the interview until end of the interview. But these points are not regarded in the contract.

*Implementation and compilation are separate topics of the interview and each requires its own expertise. So, in your opinion, separate amounts should be considered for it.

Recently, I was offered a contract in which 1500000 IRR per hour for interview and 1500000 IRR for implementation were considered. I said I have to pay at least 2200000 IRR per hour to the implementer!

*If you don't accept this contract, are you able to negotiate to change the rate?

No. We just lose the work because there are a number of people who work with less than such amounts. If the ordering organization to do economizing, it will choose the second option between a professional oral practitioner and a person who is not professional but is paid less. This path is not profitable for the author and only spends his life on it.

* Let's move toward a bit the issue of material rights. One of the common problems faced by oral practitioners is that sometimes the narrator does not take responsibility for his/her words. Do you ask the narrators to give content approval and sign it?

Yes. If it is a monologue, we ask the interviewee to sign after reading the final text. We also have a series of problems in the field of research. For example, I interviewed 52 people for the book “Hamid, Hamid, Mahdi”, which is about martyr Hamid Bakeri. I went to 4 provinces and got interviews in different conditions. Such projects are different from monologue works. When the narrator is one person, the location and atmosphere of the interview is clear. In the end, you encounter one person and get along with anyway, but when you are dealing with 52 people, it is very different. If one word is moved, you have to response a group, and it is much more difficult. Suppose that to get signatures from 52 people, I have to travel to each city and even get signatures for 2 lines of one person's memoir. This is not practical. In such a situation, we should be trustworthy and use the sentences intact and give references. If it is not the same sentence of the narrator, it may cause a problem in the future. Finally, the author is under pressure from two sides; both from the narrator and from the customer.

*You wrote a book titled “The Sixth Person” that you seem to be waiting for its publication.

Yes. The book “The Sixth Person [in Persian: Sheshomin Nafar]” contains memories of the sixth person, one of the early founders of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran that was prevented to be published due to that the authorities behaved arbitrarily. I worked on this book for Hozeh Honari. The previous team in Hozeh Honari had a good view of this work and was eager to publish this book because of its content, which could answer many questions about how MKO was formed. But when the previous team changed, this book went out of printing process.

* How long has it been suspended?

Almost 2 years. The interviews were conducted in 2019 and its final rewriting was completed in 2020. After the first and second checking, it has been out of the printing process. I even tried several times to publish the book “The Sixth Person” in other publications, but I encountered problems again.

* Were you committed to Hozeh Honari in the contract?

Yes. The contract was about 125 million IRR. They said you should pay back the money and then present the work wherever you like.

  * An oral practitioner worked hard to prepare a book and now, as you say, due to arbitrary behavior, the book has been out of the publishing process. Does the contract not mention non-obligation of the parties?

The contracts are such that they consider this part only for oral practitioner. In fact, the contract is one-sided. When you sign this contract, you concede everything. From zero to one hundred of a project; That is, from the interview to the rewriting, it is the responsibility of the oral practitioner in the contract. We take the time to edit, which is completely free. We do not get anything from selling the book and the work is exclusive to the publisher. But when the client decides to remove the work from the process, he/she does it so easily. Because he/she has not made such an obligation in the contract for him/herself. I know, many works have suffered such a fate. Both the narrator and the author are waiting for the result to be published.

*Perhaps, if before signing, the oral practitioners discuss the contract with a lawyer and sign knowingly, such problems will not occur.

Yes, it is exactly a good method, but in reality, it cannot be implemented. Maybe it is practical for famous and outstanding oral practitioners! But the rest are like me. Especially those who do this work professionally and it is their livelihood, they have to sign the contract in a somehow lower or higher rate. As the famous saying goes: “Hunger will tame a lion.”

*As the last question, you mentioned the problems in the contracts and that you have to sign them due to livelihood problems. If the procedure of contracts doesn’t change and a group of oral practitioners are dissatisfied, what damage will it cause to oral history in the long run?

The motivation of oral practitioners and quality will decrease. The writer is forced to carry out several works at the same time in order to make a living. It is in this situation that he/she loses his/her focus on the project, and reduces quality of the work. This issue causes three major damages to oral history; First, it loses its own special audience, secondly, it causes omitting the subject, and thirdly, it discredits oral history books that can be used as a reference for researchers. If the projects are to be entrusted to inexperienced people who are willing to do the work at any cost, they will not even rationalize the text and interviews, and the result will not be favorable. We may have witnessed publication of such works in recent years.


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