Copyright Release of Rights Obligations for 1970s Interviews

Daniel Clark Discussion

My university has acquired a collection of recordings of interviews conducted with elderly, Black residents of Pontiac, Michigan in the mid-1970s. There are no copyright release of rights forms, which is understandable since that was not yet an expectation or requirement when doing oral history. We're looking for advice about what to do so that scholars, students, and community members can use these interviews. It is extremely doubtful that any of the narrators are still living. When I was faced with a similar situation in the 1990s, the standard was that I had to make a good faith effort to locate either the narrators or their descendants to receive their permission. I'm not sure what the standard is today, or if there is agreement on any standard. If the good faith standard is still operative, how many descendants must one locate to ensure that the family's desires will be respected? We want to do the right thing, but we aren't sure what it would take. Thanks for any help!

1 Reply

Post Reply

Hi Daniel,
I think you are on the right track for the legal issue, but I'm wondering if this might be an opportunity to engage with the community by publicizing through social media, personal contacts with community organizations, and the like that you have this collection and are seeking family members or others to help you answer what the future of the interviews should be. Sort of like we in the federal government are obligated to do in consultation with tribal nations. Let the community guide you in what can or cannot be done with the interviews. Just an idea. Good luck.
James Williams, Museum Curator, National Park Service