Recordings of oral histories typically include copyrightable content from an interviewer and an interviewee. In some cases, the interviewer’s part is a set script written by someone else. In that case, the script writer may make a copyrightable contribution as well. For instance, if Alice interviews Bob, drawing most of her questions from a script written by Carol, all three have likely created copyrightable works. Oral histories may also include information about the interviewee or others that is otherwise protected from disclosure, for instance under privacy law, research protocols, and/or promises the interviewer makes to the interviewee.
Obtaining releases at the outset improves the university’s ability to use oral histories. Without signed releases, the university can use oral history interviews to the extent permitted by the rights of users under copyright law (e.g., fair use), so long as that use is also consistent with other applicable laws (e.g., privacy law and defamation law). If the interviewee has signed one of the release forms below and the university has obtained copyright in the interviewer’s part, the university can make more uses of the interview. However, it is still important to consider privacy issues for any private material about someone other than the interviewee (for instance, someone the interviewee mentions). It is also important to address ethical issues. If you are conducting research with human subjects, you must obtain approval from the appropriate Institutional Review Board.
If you use these releases, it is important to keep the signed copies. Save copies of all the releases along with the oral history recordings and other materials. If you give the materials to a library or archive, make sure to give copies of any releases you have as well. In addition, it is a prudent practice to include in the recording of the interview an acknowledgement that you are recording and that the subjects are aware of the recording.
Releases from Interviewees
The Oral History Release Forms are intended to be signed by interviewees participating in oral history projects sponsored by the University of Michigan. There are three versions:
In Oral History Release Form Version 1: Transfer to Regents, interviewees transfer their copyrights to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Interviewee do not keep any copyrights and do not license any copyrights to the public.
In Oral History Release Form Version 2: CC BY License, the interviewee licenses use rights to the public at large under a CC BY 4.0 license but keeps the copyright.
In Oral History Release Form Version 3: CC BY-NC License, the interviewee licenses use rights to the public at large under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license but keeps the copyright.
If you are leading an oral history project at the University of Michigan, any of these three forms will give you broad rights to use the content. Version 1 transfers copyright to the Regents. Under SPG 601.28, the “unit most closely associated with the creation of the work” will then have the ability to make decisions about its copyright. In that case, you would consult with the head of your unit about uses that you want to make of the interviews. Under Version 2 or 3, your rights to use the material come from the chosen Creative Commons license (as well as user’s rights under copyright law) and are the same as the public’s rights. Thus, Version 2 and Version 3 are particularly appropriate when you are collaborating with external partners who will also need rights to reuse the recordings.
All three forms address the interviewee’s privacy rights. Interviewees give the University of Michigan the right to share the interview with the public and waive any privacy rights they have in the interview’s contents. Thus, these forms should only be used for oral histories that are meant to be made fully public. Note, however, that the interviewee cannot waive the privacy rights of others.
The forms also all contain optional supplemental provisions. The first supplemental provision addresses the interviewee’s privacy rights in photographs of the interviewee taken for the project. The second addresses interviewees’ copyright and privacy rights in additional material they hold copyright in and have shared as part of the project. If the interviewee wishes to share additional material under a public license, the Licensing Form would also work for this purpose.
For simplicity’s sake, we recommend using one version of the form with all interviewees in a given project.
Obtaining Rights from Interviewers and Script Writers
When the interviewer or a script writer contributes copyrightable material, it may also be useful to get a copyright transfer or license for those contributions. In most cases, it is not necessary to get privacy releases from interviewers or script writers.
In some cases involving University of Michigan employees, the Regents may automatically hold copyright in the interviewer’s or script writer’s part. SPG 601.28 explains who holds copyrights for works created at or in affiliation with the University of Michigan. Here is a brief explanation of that provision as it applies to oral history interviewers and script writers.
Non-faculty: When a non-faculty employee acting within the scope of employment conducts an oral history interview or writes an interview script, the Regents get the copyright in those contributions. Under SPG 601.28, the unit most closely associated with the creation of the employee’s part may authorize uses of it. For instance, it could apply one of the Creative Commons licenses to it.
Faculty: When a faculty employee acting within the scope of employment conducts an oral history interview or writes an interview script, the Regents get the copyright in those contributions. If those contributions are a scholarly work, the Regents transfer the copyright to the faculty employee subject to certain conditions and exceptions. For the university to be able to use the oral histories fully in the future, the faculty employee will need to license or transfer that copyright.
Student employees acting within the scope of their employment: Student employees acting within the scope of their employment are in the category of non-faculty employees. When a student employee acting within the scope of employment conducts an oral history interview or writes an interview script, the Regents get the copyright in those contributions. Under SPG 601.28, the unit most closely associated with the creation of the student employee’s part may authorize uses of it. For instance, it could apply one of the Creative Commons licenses to it.
- All other students: When a student conducts an oral history interview or writes an interview script, the student gets the copyright in those contributions. For the university to be able to use the oral histories fully in the future, the student will need to license or transfer that copyright.