Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-10

The Oral History Association is not allowed to interfere legally in the issues of this field

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. Ali Tatari, one of the managers and activists in the field of oral history. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Iranian Oral History Association, the director of Zarhoon Publications, the director of the Office for Iranian Economic History Studies, and the founder of the Oral History Department in the Islamic Consultative Assembly Library. In the upcoming discussion, the challenges in the field of intellectual and material rights of oral history works as well as the obstacles for the Oral History Association in addressing this issue is discussed.

*Mr. Tatari, you were the director of the Majlis Document Center in the 2000s and the oral history department started to work by you in 2008. You intended to collect the strongest parliamentary archive of oral history and compile appropriate scientific and practical regulations in comparison with domestic and foreign examples. According to this perspective and purpose, where would you get the interviewers and how would you contract them to do the oral history projects of the Majlis?

As you mentioned, in 2008, I proposed the establishment of an oral history department in the Majlis library document center to Mr. Rasul Jafarian, the then head of the library, and he agreed too. Since then, due to the fact that we did not have any work experience, guidelines, regulations, and plan in the field of oral history, in the first step, it was decided to compile a series of guidelines and then write a comprehensive plan of oral history. Therefore, based on the budget and priorities we were following at the same time, in addition to cataloging about 10 million documents of the Majlis, we had to also focus on the field of oral history. Due to the limited budget we had, I conducted the first interviews personally. About 50 to 60 hours of interviews were conducted with several characters. After that, two of our colleagues started to work and interviews were conducted with about 50 members of the parliament (mainly those of the pre-revolution period), and the project progressed to the point where we formed a research group, and I was assigned as the secretary of this group. It was also put on me. In this group, we formulated a plan to define and outsource projects because we had a high workload, and with a few internal members, the project did not advance much. They could only manage the project. From 2017 onwards, we defined a legal mechanism to entrust the oral history projects of the Majlis to stylist researchers; however, the further we went, on the one hand, the financial problems increased every day, and on the other hand, management changes in the Majlis Library caused us to move away from those goals.

*Official organizations such as the Majlis are often both the clients and executors of oral history projects, and use their own employees as interviewers and compilers. As a result, employees also receive salaries for this work. Nevertheless, did you consider intellectual rights for such people? For example, was that person's name mentioned on the book cover and the copyright page or not?

The interviewer's rights are clear. He gets paid and does his/her task. We also had fundamental principles for the intellectual rights of the works. We often had a few articles in the field of oral history. Anyone did the interview, and even an assistant I had in a few cases who just did the implementation, I'll mention their name in the article. I considered this a task for myself, but we did not reach the stage of publishing a book so I can give you an example. However, the book would be definitely published in the name of the interviewer and we would strictly follow this principle.

*Such action motivates oral history practitioners to do their work in the best way.

It must be done, but it is very clear that this issue is not observed to a large extent.

* Since you interviewed prominent political figures, you experienced a world different from other oral history interviews. You must have deep knowledge of political history. Also, some issues such as keeping secrets and sometimes requests like non-publishing of memories until the narrator's lifetime are raised. What is your opinion about preserving the intellectual rights of political figures in the field of oral history?

An interview in oral history has several sides, with the “interviewee” and “interviewer” being at the top of them. On the other side, there is the ordering organization. A part of this matter depends on the initial contract of compilation in the organization which order the work. We had compiled a series of worksheets or basic guidelines in the research structure of the Majlis’s library. At the beginning of the interview, we informed the interviewee or the narrator about the issues and frequently asked questions such as do we have the right to publish the memories or not? Do they have a special opinion about the interview or not? Usually, our audience in the parliament were the parliamentarians who did not have material requests. That is, publishing memories itself was important to them and they emphasized us to be trustworthy. Since the Majlis, both before and after the Islamic Revolution, has been considered as public institution in the constitution, my colleagues and I tried to maintain a non-ideological perspective in the interviews. It means to we tried to record the facts, and therefore, it was very rare that they mentioned something to us materially and intellectually. During the last 25 years that I have been involved in the field of oral history, I can clearly state that these issues are not fully observed in any institution or organization. Our target audience were political figures interested in publishing their memoirs, but in most cases, a cultural figure has moral rights and, accordingly, material rights, which are not respected.

* Why does it seem so difficult for organizations to respect the material and intellectual rights of the narrator?

The important thing is that we are not a member of the [international] copyright law, and this has caused a series of abuses and excuses for government organizations and even IRIB. To be clear, the narrator's rights are not respected in Iran, either in public sector projects or in private sector projects. We are not allowed to do whatever we like because we are not members of a forum! One of the reasons for not respecting the narrator's rights is that legal prosecution is not possible. But if it is under the rules and regulations, everyone would follow. Regarding the oral history interviews, I would like to emphasize that many of the extracted materials are the narrator's intentions. That is, you get his/her experiences and based on this assumption, oral history is formed.

*Besides not being a member of the copyright law, what other factors do you consider effective on the current situation of material intellectual rights of oral history works?

From my perspective, the foundation of oral history in Iran was not scientifically established from the beginning. That is, a number of governmental institutions and organizations engaged in this field, which did not have the necessary knowledge and expert personnel for a scientific matter. Scientific and academic institutions have mostly not conducted oral history. Those who have little knowledge and only with personal motivation and interest pick up a tape recorder and conduct an interview, eventually cause consequences and problems that have appeared recently gradually after three decades of active life of oral history. See, it is interesting that we just recognize in 2023 that what is the role of the narrator and why his/her rights are not respected? The narrator says whatever he/she has and only his/her names appears on the book cover! Moreover, in some cases, even their name is removed! On the other hand, if the rights of the narrator are respected, how effective it would be in improving the quality of oral history interviews; when the narrator is in material and spiritual peace, then he/she realizes that a share of this cultural work belongs to him/her and surely he/she will accompany in the formation of oral history.

* Many believe organizing the oral history contracts and its material and intellectual rights is the responsibility of the Oral History Association. What do you think as a board member of this association?

Regarding oral history contracts, we must have a neutral arbiter. One of our goals in the Oral History Association was to compile the regulations, guidelines, and general standards in the field of oral history, but unfortunately we did not succeed in this regard; Neither in the public sector nor in the private sector. Every center signs a contract based on its budget, credit, wishes, and needs. On the other hand, there are no well-documented rules and research regulations. I believe it was the duty of the Oral History Association to intervene in this complex legal process and have the last word, but for various reasons, this was not achieved. Note that, so far, all the activities of the Oral History Association have been spontaneous and it was not never supported financially by any organizations or centers; considering these conditions, I think holding 14 conferences during these years has been a great achievement.

* Can the oral history association be given a legal character to act as an important agent?

4 years ago, we had an experience in forming the Guild Association of Iranian History Researchers. The election of the members of the board of directors was held before the representative of the Ministry of Interior in the House of Humanities Thinkers. Two of my friends and I started working as a board of directors, but legal and extra-legal problems arose, which in practice led to the failure of the aforementioned association from the outset. Scientific associations are also not allowed to interfere legally and only trade unions have the ability to do so. Forming a guild association has its own difficulties.

* Now that you have founded Zarhoon Publications, please tell me what is the difference between your lived experience in the field of oral history in the public and private space regarding the observance of material and intellectual rights?

The private sector has less cumbersome rules than the public sector. Of course, both the public sector and the private sector have their own advantages and disadvantages. Each of these must be categorized. We have many requirements in the public sector and we have more freedom of action in the private sector. It means there are fewer frameworks and in an interview, there is a much wider space for asking questions and using criticism. In fact, the employer's preferences have little effect on the compilation and output of the oral history. On the other hand, better investments are made in the public sector. In the cultural fields, we have effective and decisive elements, the most important of which are funding and management. In the private sector, we are often faced with strong management but lack of funds. On the contrary, in the public sector, the financial situation is better, but the management weakness is noticeable and evident as we all witness. Investment in the field of oral history in the public sector is more and access to resources is easier, but it is the opposite in the private sector, because the process of establishment and archival services have a lot of costs. Also, oral history, from interview to publication, is very expensive. Meanwhile, to what extent can the private sector have something to say?

There are also many disadvantages in the public sector. For example, not every topic can be proposed and addressed. Many topics are customized and determined based on the needs of that organization, and it is not possible to leave a series of frameworks, and this is a big drawback. Because it hurts scientific method. According to the scientific parameters, one should act impartially and only reflect the narrations and documents objectively. You should not even direct the interview in the direction you want. On the other hand, inefficient and uneducated managers who had no management experience in this field were assigned as the head of cultural and archival centers. This is a major pest that has occurred in the last few years. They don't have management experience in these areas, and in such situation, they start to gain experience and build resumes. Many times, we see that money is spent on projects that are often repetitive and overlapping works, or they don’t have a scientific method and statement of the problem. These factors cause the waste of budgets and credits, and dealing with low credible scientific topics; hence it causes damage to the cultural and civilizational field of the country. These managers do not even have experience in financial matters. During the last 3 years, we have had several major contracts in the field of oral history. After 5 months of tough negotiation process, we were selected as the project manager, however the start of the project was delayed until the following year. For example, the cost estimate is done in 2021, but the project contract is concluded in 2022; it is concluded in a situation that the inflation rate has even reached 100% in the past years. Given the current economy, how can an oral history project be funded? Everyone thinks, for an oral history, only one recorder is needed for the interview; however, in the process of oral history, we have study and research, selection of people, pre-interview and conducting interviews, then project management, interview assistant, implementer, and typesetter. Rationalization, indexing, primary and secondary editing, preparation and printing should also be done. How should a private institution estimate costs?

Many centers entrust projects to non-specialists. For example, they use employees with no post in the organization; regardless of having sufficient mastery of oral history. At Zarhoon Publications, we have gone in the direction of encouraging both the private and public sectors to invest and oursource oral history projects in order to provide them with a scientific result in accordance with international standards. In the world, many writings and articles are published as a specialized, independent, and scientific subject under international standards and frameworks in the field of oral history. How bound are we to these issues?

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