Review of the Series of Interviews about “Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works”

From Ignoring the Narrator’s Rights to Impose One’s Preferences in the Text

Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


In the last months of 1402 SH, Iranian Oral History Website ( conducted and published a series of interviews titled “Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works” with publishers, oral history practitioners, and experts in the field of oral history. The opinions raised in these 10 interviews pointed to different and consistent points of view about the material intellectual rights of oral history works, and at the point when we felt that the comments and criticisms were repeated, we stopped the conversation. In the following report, a summary of these opinions is presented. If you want to share new views, enter your name and contact number in the comments section so that you can be contacted for an interview. The exchange of opinions will help to form a logical framework and process in the field of respecting material intellectual rights of oral history works.


From the publisher’s perspective

Since government publishers have a wider activity in the field of oral history, “Sooreh Mehr.” “Fatehan,” and “Sooreh Sabz”—Sooreh Sabz is a private publisher, but it focuses on the role of AJA (the army) in the imposed war and the martyrs of AJA—were chosen to inquire about the process of their contracts with the oral practitioners and the narrators.

Previously, Sooreh Mehr Publications cooperated with oral practitioners by concluding a work for hire agreement, and the oral practitioners and the narrator did not receive royalties for the subsequent editions; however, recently, due to issues arising from not respecting the rights of the parties, and the dissatisfaction of some authors, they have changed the procedure and divided the reprint fee between the narrator and the oral practitioner. It can be said that Sooreh Mehr is the only publisher that gives material rights to the narrator.

On the other hand, Fatehan and Sooreh Sabz publications have almost followed the same path and do not consider material rights for the narrator. Even by pointing out that the oral history works of these publishers are in the field of the sacred defense, they evaluated such an action as incorrect. By concluding a direct contract with the author, these two publishers have taken the right of any further material profit of the book from the oral practitioners, and they are confined in presenting the book to him and the narrator. According to these two publishers, inserting material aspects into the field of narration will cause inserting exaggeration and imagination into the narrations. On the other hand, problems in the field of book distribution and sales were considered another reason for the appropriateness of a direct contract.


From the oral practitioner and expert’s perspective

Most of the speakers who have commented in these conversations have complained about imposing preference of the ordering organizations on the work’s content and even selection or removal of the book from the printing process. Undoubtedly, this issue affects the intellectual rights of the narrator and the interviewer.

“The unfairness of the contracts,” “the imbalance of fees and costs of the oral history process,”, “impossibility of bargaining with the publisher or the client on amount of the contract for beginners,” “one-sidedness of the contracts for the oral practitioners and its effect on quality of the works” are some of the complaints of the activists in the field of oral history. On the other hand, since the narrator and the interviewer do not benefit from reprinting, the rights of these two sides of oral history will be lost too. Moreover, respecting the intellectual rights such as including the names of all those involved in the oral history process in the book, including names of the narrator, interviewer, and editor on the book cover, non-censorship, and preventing influence of frameworks of governmental organizations on the content were among the most important demands of this group. Regarding the material and intellectual rights of the interviewer, implementer, editor, and others involved in an oral history book, and choosing professionals for each section and paying a decent fee was another point that was taken into consideration. Besides, experts and activists in the field of oral history emphasized the need for an institution which would be in charge of organizing material and intellectual rights of oral history works; however, based on a conversation with 2 members of the Board of Directors of the Oral History Association, they announced that since some associations like the Oral History Association are scientific associations, they are not allowed to interfere in legal issues. Only a trade association has the possibility to deal with these discussions. Then, they emphasized the necessity of holding a workshop or a specialized conference in the field of familiarizing oral practitioners with the correct way of concluding a contract and the legal challenges of this field. In the end, the absence of academics from the beginning of formation of oral history was considered as the reason for lack of proper and scientific progress in this field in Iran; in this regard, we intend to have a series of separate conversations with history professors.


From the narrator’s perspective

At the beginning of the journey, we were determined and hesitant to talk to some of the narrators of the best-selling works of oral history. On the one hand, it was important for us to have a detailed knowledge of the narrators' point of view about the material and intellectual rights of their memories; On the other hand, we were worried about the consequences for publishers and interviewers after interviewing them. Therefore, we asked the oral practitioners and experts to clarify the material and moral rights of the narrators. They believe sometimes imposing preference causes the words of the narrator to not be conveyed correctly or the pen affects the narration. In addition to that, the material intellectual rights of the narrator are unclear in the contracts. For example, if a screenplay is written and made based on the memoirs of a narrator, is the narrator's permission necessary and will it be financially beneficial or not?

  In general, the issue of material and intellectual ownership of oral history works is like the story of the chicken and the egg! The publisher believes if he/she was not there, no book would have been published. The interviewer and the editor say that if they weren't there, no text would have been formed, and the narrator emphasizes that if it wasn't for my memories, a book wouldn't have been created! From the expert’s perspective, unfortunately, the material and intellectual rights of the narrator are not fully respected by the client. For example, no material rights are considered for him/her—except for a few publishers. While the book is based on his/her memories, there will undoubtedly be material benefit to the publisher. So why shouldn't the owner of the memories receive a payment? Moreover, the experts emphasized that in all countries, the text belongs to the narrator. However, there is no such procedure and the work belongs to the client—especially in the field of elite oral history. In the meantime, some of those ordering oral history works provide the final text to the narrator after completing editing, and after reading, they record the final approval by obtaining signature of the narrator in order to avoid possible events after publication. The Iranian Oral History Website is still waiting to hear your diverse views on this matter.



Oral History Works and Upcoming Problems-2 Presenting the issue of material intellectual property right

Note- A Heritage with No Legal System

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-1- The publication "Sureh Mehr" focuses on respecting the equal rights of the parties

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-2- Material motives should not enter into the space of narration

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-3- “Work for Hire Agreement” is the best approach with difficult publishing conditions

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-4- Most Oral History Practitioners Get Caught Up in Criteria of Formal Compilation of Organizations Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-5- The necessity of financial estimation of projects by the Oral History Association

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Works-6- In Oral History Contracts, Commitment Is One-sided

 Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-7 It is among the narrator's rights to know from the ultimate goal of the interviewer and final confirmation of the text.

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-8 The ownership of the work is still not clear for the oral history books

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-9 Oral History Text Belongs to the Narrator

Material Intellectual Property Rights of Oral History Work-10 The private sector has less cumbersome rules than the public sector


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