Speaking of Music and the Counterpoint of Copyright: Addressing Legal Concerns in Making Oral History Available to the Public

By: Jeremy J. Beck & Libby Van Cleve

Oral history provides society with voices and memories of people and communities experiencing events of the past first-hand. Such history is created through interviews; an interview, however, like any other type of intellectual property—once in a fixed form—is subject to copyright law. In order to make oral history available to the public, it is critically important that individuals generating and acquiring oral history materials clearly understand relevant aspects of copyright law. The varied nature of how one may create, use, and acquire oral history materials can present new, surprising, and sometimes baffling legal scenarios that challenge the experience of even the most skilled curators.

This iBrief presents and discusses two real-world scenarios that raise various issues related to oral history and copyright law. These scenarios were encountered by curators at Yale University’s Oral History of American Music archive (OHAM), the preeminent organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of recorded memoirs of the creative musicians of our time. The legal concerns raised and discussed throughout this iBrief may be familiar to other stewards of oral history materials and will be worthwhile for all archivists and their counsel to consider when reviewing their practices and policies.

Cite: 2011 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 005

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