The ownership of the work is still not clear for the oral history books

If we do not share our expectations of the rights of oral history works, we will suffer misunderstandings

Interviewed and adjusted by Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Following our discussion of Material Intellectual Property Rights of oral history works, we had an interview with Dr. Gholamreza Azizi, the former director of the Archival Research Institute of the National Library and Archival of Iran (NLAI). He is still one of the activists in the field of oral history.




* The book “Legal Issues of Oral History Interviews” was published during your presidency in NLAI’s Archival Research Institute. What were your concerns in introducing such a project?

When I started working in the Archival Research Institute, it was a time when we had undertaken the oral history department and its affairs were also assigned to us. The National Library and Archival of Iran started oral history activities in 1991, and during this time, it only collected, interviewed, and archived these activities. We were criticized by people outside the organization that we did not see as critique. The first problem in their idea was that why didn’t we publish these interviews? Until then, the publication of interviews in our organization did not have a regular and documented mechanism. So, with the aim of organizing this process and strengthening the publication of works, we have taken measures in this direction along with the colleagues of the research institute. But we faced many obstacles and legal ambiguities. For example, in some of the works that we intended to publish, the interviewee was not alive, and his condition at the time of the interview was that he must see and approve the interview before publication. Naturally, this condition was no longer practical. Another issue was that the rights of those who had collaborated with the research institute in this process were not clear, or the problem like that should name of interviewer appear on book cover, as well as name of compiler? On the other hand, we were obliged to observe some commitments for the interviewees.

The narrators provided us with an agreement regarding the interview and publication conditions, and in practice, we had nothing but this agreement. For this reason, Mrs. Peymaneh Salehi proposed to work on the legal issues of oral history as a research project, the Research Council agreed, and I was assigned to supervise the project. This book is not the first work in the field of oral history law. But it is the first Persian research book. Previously, these issues were mentioned in articles sporadically, but not in this comprehensive and complete way. Maybe it should be updated in the next edition according to the new conditions. For example, at that time, there were no podcasts and the like.

* So you started such a project because of internal issues in the field of publishing oral history works.

It was not just internal issues. Due to a series of reasons which had been accumulated over time, the book “Legal Issues of Oral History Interviews” was finally published. The limits of the obligations and expectations of interviewee and interviewer were not clearly defined anywhere. Other centers had the same problems. Suppose that an organization had commissioned a person to do interview in an oral history project. The narrator would be willing to be interviewed due to reputation of the name of that organization, but the interviewer would have personally published the book outside that center. The narrator would also be upset with the center that why another publisher would have published his/her memoirs. If I want to give evidence and examples, it is more than these examples. That is, the legal issues and problems that occurred in the oral history interviews existed and still exist in most active organizations such as Library of Astan Quds, Library and Document Center of the Iranian Parliament, the Islamic Revolution Document Center, the artistic sect [of the Islamic Republic], etc. In fact, none of them had a legal manual that could deal with these issues. If there were resources in this regard, the necessity of doing this research project would be felt less, but the reality wat that problems were everywhere. For example, we had a manual for our publishing our books that had specified the rights of parties, and answered, for example, whether the author is the editor or not. But other organizations did not have written legal rules and style in this regard.

*You emphasized in a specialized oral history session that oral history contracts are ambiguous, the legal issues of oral history must be clarified, and that the narrator's rights are still unclear. First, let's start with ambiguity in rights of the interviewee. What exactly did you mean?

Suppose, I want to publish an interview with a publisher and a contract is set up between the publisher and me. In fact, the interviewee's memories are supposed to be published. Where is this point mentioned in the contract? This is where I believe our contracts are ambiguous. It is not matter of low and high percentage in the contract. In the contracts, the rights of interviewee had not been clear at all (and still are not in many cases) and even no rights had been considered for him/her! Because the publisher makes a contract with the compiler. The publisher also claims that I am only publishing the book and other issues are not relevant to me, and in fact, he/she doesn’t undertake the narrator's rights. But does the publisher have permission or a letter of satisfaction from the interviewee to publish his memories? This section refers to the interview agreement, whether the interviewee has given you permission to print their interview or not. Is such a question asked of the narrator in the contract? The narrator may object to you that I was disagree with this publication line of thought and I was not satisfied with this work; why did you give my interview to be printed by this publisher.

This is where I say that most of the contracts are vague and the rights of the narrator are not respected in them (leave aside exceptions such as Hozeh Honari [the artistic sect]). If you, as the editor, receive the royalty, will the interviewee receive a portion of it? Because the narrator has given all this information to the interviewer, and if you do the oral history interview well, you would only give footnotes to the text and rationalize it; you do some editing; for example, you blur its informal expression, and you have put the verb and the subject in their place, and organize the text. It is true that the editor works hard in this direction, but if this contract leads to a financial transaction, what will happen to the rights of the interviewee?

*Perhaps part of the problem is due to the fact that a large part of oral history works is related to the revolution and the war, fighters, prisoners, or commanders provide their memories voluntarily and without financial consideration. So a heresy or an unwritten law was established that the narrator does not take any financial or intellectual rights from their memories.

I am not saying that this is good or bad. I refer mostly to people who work on organizational projects. If a percentage of the book cover price is given to the compiler, actually an income has been made; both for the publisher and the editor. In the meantime, what will be share of the narrator? Let me give another example;

The narrator has written an implied agreement or a non-notarized commitment indicating that he/she has given you permission to publish after approval, but he/she regrets after publishing the book. Can the narrator sue you? Oral history contracts have no legal form and can’t be presented in court. This does not only include the possibility of conflict between the narrator and the interviewer or the compiler. Perhaps the interviewer and the publisher also face problems. This is where it seems, the narrator's legal issues are not clear. So the legal issues of oral history in organizations and institutions are still unclear. If a book is ready to be published after the narrator's approval, but director of the offerer organization is changed and reject publication of the book, there is a rule in all centers that if, for example up to 5 years, the center does not publish that work, the interviewee or the narrator will be given permission to publish the book. Is this possibility included in oral history contracts? Can the center prevent this measure? So there are many legal questions that can be answered by setting up well-defined and regular contracts.

*Perhaps it is possible to prepare a comprehensive agreement by holding a meeting with the presence of a group of lawyers and members of the Oral History Association, and present it to all active organizations in this field.

Yes. It is possible to do this. Only the contracts should be in the form of a document that can be submitted and accepted by the court judge. Naturally, it should include the rights of all participants. Remember we are talking about two contracts: interview contract and interview publication contract. The interview contract is between the offerer organization and the executor. Another contract is about ownership of the work, and most of the disputes are about this issue. Some organizations say because we have published the oral history, then the book is ours. On the other hand, the narrator says if I didn't give you my memories, you wouldn't have any books to print. Fortunately, this struggle is gradually strengthening towards the interviewee. So in legal issues and contracts, it is at least one agreement between the organization and the interviewee. We should have an agreement between the project executor and the interviewer, and possibly a publication agreement, which is different depending on organization or individual. Certainly, lawyers can more easily adjust the provisions of this contract in legal language and rules based on the executive laws and regulations in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

* Therefore, despite the differences in opinions, differences in tastes, and conflicting opinions, actions can be taken.

why not. There are various methods and approaches in the field of oral history, which cannot necessarily be said to which one is good or bad. Some institutions say we do not pay our editors for this work, while it is considered as work and duty and they pay him/her a monthly salary. For example, if we have 10 methods of setting up a contract, we should include these 10 methods in the contract to avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate expectations later. Mostly each of the parties in the contract justify themselves; all these issues refer to the problem that the rights of the parties are not clear from the beginning, and each one works based on their own perceptions.

We did not share our thoughts and expectations with each other, and each of us looks at the matter through our own eyes. That is, my opinion is that because I am the compiler of the book, so I am owner of the work. A publisher or an organization that is investor of the project considers itself owner of the book, and the narrator, since he/she owns the interview and information, considers him/herself the author and creator of the book—which of course I agree with. If a clear, unambiguous, and transparent contract is available to everyone, they will not encounter problems later.

On the other hand, there are problems between compilers and interviewers. Whose name should appear on the cover? Also, in some books, the compiler name is written as the author on the book cover which is also wrong. A compiler is a compiler.  Name of the interviewee should also not be mentioned as the author. All of these scenarios should be covered in the form of a contract, but will vary depending on expectations and agreements.

* Does setting up such contract fall within the scope of duties of the Oral History Association? Is it possible to solve these issues in the best way by holding a session?

When rights are disputed between individuals and the publisher, the Oral History Association cannot step in and give a prescription. Like other activities, the association can present its opinions, and hold meetings and conferences. In the association, sometimes the problems and issues that the oral practitioner community is facing for a period and year are discussed in the form of a conference. The oral history association can intervent in order to strengthen the legal debates and update it, equalizing the existing issues with examples that can be designed, but since most of it is legal, we should ask lawyers also to help so that contracts to be regulated based on local culture, internal rules and laws, and judicial custom of the country.



Oral History Works and Upcoming Problems-2 Presenting the issue of material intellectual property right

Note- A Heritage with No Legal System

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-1- The publication "Sureh Mehr" focuses on respecting the equal rights of the parties

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-2- Material motives should not enter into the space of narration

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-3- “Work for Hire Agreement” is the best approach with difficult publishing conditions

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-4- Most Oral History Practitioners Get Caught Up in Criteria of Formal Compilation of Organizations Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-5- The necessity of financial estimation of projects by the Oral History Association

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-6- In Oral History Contracts, Commitment Is One-sided


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