Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-9

Oral History Text Belongs to the Narrator

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 “Mohammad Ghasemipour”, the former director of the Center for Culture and Resistance Research in the strategic deputy of the provinces of Hozeh Honari (artistic field). For more than 10 years, he has been holding oral history training workshops in the province capital’s Hozeh Honari.

*Mr. Ghasemipour, you have been teacher of oral history training workshops in the province capital’s Hozeh Honari for more than 10 years, and in other words, you are a teacher of oral practitioners whose works have been published in the recent years. During this period, didn't you feel the need to hold a separate meeting in the field of training oral history law?

If your intention of rights is material aspect and remuneration, it is a different matter. But sometimes rights include the scope of material, intellectual, and reputation ownership, which also includes moral requirements and behavioral competencies. Since I was a teacher, I entered the field of ethics and pointed out that the field of activities related to oral history requires some respects and observations from the side of researcher. I also mentioned as much as possible the almost bleak perspective, materially and economically, of this field; that is, if your intention to enter the field of oral history is its economic and income-generating function, what are the conditions like realistically. Things stay almost the same as the last 12 years, and it hasn't changed much.

* Ethics in oral history is the foundation of material intellectual rights; Whether from the client, the narrator, or the interviewer and compiler. In which aspects do you see ethics in oral history?

Many oral history researchers claim that the remuneration is low. If I see them, I will say, “This product you presented is not oral history at all!” when you work on a topic, you take interviews using the oral history method, but the book that is published is, for example, an implementation of collection of questions and answers not oral history. Sometimes they implement the same question and answer, and on the book cover, the name of a person is written as the author, but in reality, the name of the implementer should have been written on the cover. Because it is only interviewed, implemented, and printed. Sometimes text of the conversation is faithfully implemented and even the spoken words are quoted exactly based on conversational writing; in the sense that the book has been faithfully published. This is not oral history either. Oral history is not a mass cultural product that would be a bestseller and pay you a lot of money. This work should directly enter the history archive and be used by specialized researchers and then convert to other products. I do not deny the need to pay researchers a good salary for the hours of interviews, travel, and the time and energy they spend on coordination. Some oral history projects cost a lot of telecommunications and internet before even an hour of interview is conducted. I am aware of all these hidden costs. But they should pay attention to the mentioned points.

*In any case, oral history projects create capital and credibility for the publisher. Meanwhile, the narrator's rights, both materially and intellectually, are not considered much. What do you think about this? Does ethics in oral history have a place for this issue?

At the beginning of the classes, I remind that text of oral history and whatever is published belongs to the narrator. This is the world standard in the field of oral history, but the narrator in Iran is the most oppressed. Once upon a time, narrators spent time and talked without wanting something in return. But now it is important to them that I spend time, so what will be its advantage for me? Of course, this is the global standard. Recently, a few publishers have made an effort to consider the rights of the narrator, but the standard legal model is that the interviewer and the narrator to reach an understanding on the way forward. There should be exactly an ethical agreement, or if they don't worth it, they should prepare a written and reliable agreement to determine what the outcome of this conversation will be? Will it be delivered to the archives of a special organization or will it be turned into a book or a movie? If the book becomes a bestseller, which person or people will receive the profit? Whatever they have in mind, they should put it in the contract and the narrator should indicate whether he/she want financial interest or not. Sign this contract in two copies and each one has one copy in order to be able to follow up. If all aspects are regulated and signed in a standard way, many problems will not arise in the future. For example, a woman who was once USA’s Secretary of State agrees with a professional interviewer to record and edit her memories. Because she doesn't have the ability to do this herself, and it is through conversation that memories are remembered, directed, and become strong. Now they bargain the percentage and the highest percentage is paid to the narrator. Usually 15% is given to the interviewer and his/her name appears on the book cover as the editor-in-chief. Due to the fact that oral memories are published frequently, Sooreh Mehr Publications decided to divide a part of income of the book equally between the narrator and the compiler. Suppose, they consider 12% material rights and divide it between the narrator and the researcher. In these years, we had interesting experiences. For example, the narrator announced in a written manuscript and gave up his/ her share and gave it to the researcher. Or conversely, our researcher has witnessed financial needs of the narrator during interview sessions and getting to know the narrator’s life, and has given all his material rights to the narrator. These points are not highlighted in our society and are under the skin of the publishing industry. It would be great if these became public and regulated. Every researcher who intends to work in the field of oral history must know his/her duty; here, the necessity of compiling and regulating a legal statute about oral history is felt. Employers and executive organizations should also consider themselves obliged to implement and comply it. With several meetings and conferences by the activists in this field and sharing experiences, the desired result can be achieved. Some organizations have independently done this for themselves. Research Institute of 41st Tharallah Division in Kerman was established during the lifetime of Shahid Qasem Soleimani and was in charge of recording the memories of warriors. In this institution, rights of the narrator and the interviewer are precisely defined.

* Which mistakes by the interviewer may cause legal problems in the project for the narrator?

In initial meetings, I tell researchers that when you approach people for oral history projects, it is in your best interest not to make any promises to the narrator in the initial meeting or before the interview begins. This promise is mainly in the form of “God willing, we will publish your book.” This promise causes many problems because the oral history project cannot be predicted from the beginning and that whether these narratives can be published publicly or not? Maybe it's just supposed to be kept in the archives of history, but if a beginner has promised that I will stand to the end to publish this book, she/he must bear some of the suffering, consequences, and hardships of a long wait for publication. Because the narrator keeps pressuring him/her that you had promised that my memories would be published. Resolve all these issues only in a written agreement.

* Apart from the material intellectual rights of the narrator and the interviewer, another group that cooperates in the advancement of oral history projects believe they have less rights than others.

One of the most serious and important stages of oral history, which is completely neglected in our country, is the implementation stage, which is considered a specialized matter. One should experience the difficulties of implementing an hour of conversation to know how much is difficult it. The implementer is an important person in the process of oral history. Because the implementer can correct or weaken the interview by the way he/she implements it. The implementer must act faithfully and honestly. But usually the lowest amount is considered for implementation. This is a very difficult and at the same time decisive task. That is, product of the implementer's work is handed over to the author, and if the author does not take enough time to listen to the audio files, he/she completely is subject to what the implementer has done. In some situations, because of low salary or neck pain or any other reason, the implementer implements the interview comprehensionally. That is, he/she listens two minutes and based on that, he/she types something. In such a situation, the implementer applies his/her discretion. He/she recognizes these parts are marginal and unimportant, so he/she doesn't implement it and the process proceeds accordingly. Then the narrator complains that I had raised a certain issue, why it is not in the book. The compiler also says there is no such thing in the implemented text. The wage rate and salary of the implementer should be as much as that we can reach the experts. Oral history in its essence is a group work and several specialties can work together; sometimes we see in this group work that the weakest people are chosen for implementation. So implementation is just as important as interviewing.

* In some books, where the compiler and the interviewer are two people, name of the compiler usually appears on the book cover. While from my perspective, the most time and energy is spent by the interviewer and if a work is readable, it is result of an accurate and correct interview. What about the intellectual rights of these two role regarding their names being mentioned on the cover?

I agree with you. The interviewer task is more important and he/she does the main part. But the way the book is presented has an effect on embedding name on the book cover. If the interviews are narrated like a story and the questions are omitted, it is impossible to distinguish whether the book's weaknesses are the author's or the researcher's weaknesses. That is, it is not clear whether the problems, gaps, and unanswered questions occurred in the interview stage or in the compilation stage. However, when the book is faithfully published based on the interviews and text in the form of questions and answers, definitely the researcher and interviewer have the right to have their name mentioned both on the cover and in the copyright page, along with name of the compiler. Also, if it is supposed to someone be paid in a material sense, I see the interviewer's rights as higher.

What's the problem if both names appear on the cover? One of the problems is solved with this simple method.

It is appropriate that the authors' names should be given in full in the book cover and copyright page. Sometimes one project has two interviewers or two compilers. Both names must be mentioned. These principles are observed in the world and after several decades, they have come to the conclusion that in oral history projects and even oral memories, the researcher and the interviewer should be the same compiler. Because this condition has much more benefits. Most of the works entrusted to the second person are lost or far away from the oral history. It is an oral history researcher and interviewer who can make a faithful and scientific compilation. Someone who has not been present in the dialogue sessions, has lost the narrator's moods and has a different mental atmosphere, which may lead to presenting an unrealistic image of the narrator due to not knowing him/her. However, the rights of the interviewer and the compiler in the book cover are equal.

*In recent interviews with experts in the field of oral history, we came up with the idea that a group of lawyers and members of the Oral History Association or managers of this field should act to set comprehensive contracts for oral history projects. What do you think about this offer?

It is a good idea. However, it should also be discussed in the academic environment. Since the university does not support the issue of oral history and the standards have not been designed, everyone implements his/her own opinion based on his/her own suspicion. Therefore, having a legal statute is very dreamy and ideal. Payam-e Noor University had organized an oral history training course for professors, and they entrusted me with the teaching of the legal system. I accepted and started researching about it. On the day of the workshop, there were several people with Ph.D. in law who explained the simplest legal terms in detail and even mastered the related laws. Finally, it was a very good meeting. Both they were satisfied and so was I. Because they corrected and strengthened direction of the class, and I imagine a large part of such a contract was formed in the same three hours of the workshop.

* Now let's address the rights of the narrator. If a book is published with the support of an institution and suppose it becomes a bestseller, who owns the intellectual property?

The text belongs to the narrator. It means he/she is responsible for the positive and negative points. As much as he/she is responsible for the narrator’s statements, the material consequences like good sales and awards belong to him/her. Of course, this aspect depends on the review of the works. For example, referees of a festival say that the interviewer is very strong, logical process of questions, style and standards of asking questions, verification during the interview session is done in the best way, and so he/she is chosen as the best interviewer. The narrator has no right here. But if a book becomes a bestseller, the narrator's statements have been effective and his right should be considered. Sooreh Mehr Publications is the only publisher that pays narrators a fee, and this measure was a solution to a problem that appeared in the early 2010, and some narrators requested money. If we want to move forward with the standards of oral history, the researcher should be paid enough for the interview and creation stage, but the rights after publication are for the narrator. Even if a play or screenplay is to be made based on the narrator's memories, they must pay his/her material rights. Unfortunately, today, we do not have a law in this field because it has not been legislated. If a complaint is made by one of the parties, it cannot be pursued seriously.

Number of Visits: 459


Full Name:

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