Internet Access to Oral Recordings: Finding the Issues
Application of Research Results
The University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program has close to twenty-five separate Project Jukebox programs which were developed from 1990 to the present, and which have anywhere from ten to sixty interviewees each. Trying to locate all these people or their next of kin is a daunting and expensive task for our small staff and limited budget to handle. Our release form transfers copyright to the interview to the University of Alaska Rasmuson Library and allows us to make it available to researchers, writers, scholars and the interested public. The interviewees knew they were making a public record and our projects already receive extensive local community review before they are made public. We believe the Internet is a way to help make the material better accessible to these groups. However, this research has emphasized our ethical obligations to notify people of our intentions to use their recordings on the Internet.
In Alaska we face some issues different from the rest of the United States. Our programs feature recordings with Native Alaskans, who often view family, friends and community as the primary audience for their stories. Exposure of the stories outside the region can be seen as increasing the risk of "misunderstanding" or "misquoting." We have been trying to find a balance between wider access to our material while still respecting people's sensitivities.
In my search of oral history Websites, I did search for ones related to Native American topics. I wanted to see whether they faced these same issues and how they addressed them. The University of New Mexico Archives (http://www.unm.edu/~unmarchv/oralhist.html) and the Institute of American Indian Studies, University of South Dakota, South Dakota Oral History Center (http://www.usd.edu/iais/oralhist/ohc.html) both provided on-line finding aids, but no access to audio or written material directly. Perhaps this is how they handled the privacy issue? The Institute of American Indian Studies site does have a sample of one interview segment you can listen to on-line, but it's just an excerpt and it's just the one. They mention that access to some of their material at their archives might be limited because of sensitive material, but they do not explain the matter further.
I also discovered the Australian Museum's site "Stories of the Dreaming," (http://www.dreamtime.net.au/main.cfm) which includes text, audio and video of Australian Aboriginals telling traditional stories. The site includes a statement explaining that aboriginal stories can only be told by certain people the official storytellers and that the Museum worked with the storytellers to have permission to include the material on the Website. This explanation ensures that a user of their site is properly informed and approaches the material with the proper respect.
I also discussed the issue of Internet access with some of our collaborators in rural Alaska. There was less concern about Internet abuse than previously thought. The bigger issue was that of retaining control of intellectual and cultural property rights. People felt it was important for this information to reach a broad audience, but were concerned about protecting their cultural knowledge in the process. Folks liked the idea of a protection statement, the possibility of limiting site access by password, and of getting interviewees' permission. They also expressed the desire to review the material on a local level, and to have the computer programs play the audio off a server without it downloading to a user's hard drive, so that the audio couldn't be reused. Continuing this dialogue with local community members is essential as we develop procedures for Internet access. We are sharing our draft copyright statement with folks to ensure it addresses their concerns and needs.
As a result of this project's review, the UAF Oral History Project has decided to include a protective statement at the entry point into our Website. A visitor to our site will be required to read a statement (see below) explaining copyright, permission, and cultural sensitivity issues before proceeding into the Website. In addition, some of the areas within our site may be password protected, because of local community concerns about protecting sensitive cultural material. Contact information about how to obtain access permission will be provided. Finally, we are seeking support to write the necessary letters to ask interviewees' permission to put their recordings on the Web.
The following use statements (shown in draft here) will appear on two separate pages at the beginning of our Website. A user must click an agree button at the bottom of the Site Use Agreement in order to enter the site. Please note that neither of these draft statements have been cleared yet by our legal department.
This research has shown that while oral history on the Web is becoming more and more common, the issues of copyright and permission remain complicated and the solutions diverse. The Website review did demonstrate that folks have thought more about this matter than anticipated. They have done the hard and expensive work of researching copyright and going back to speakers from old interviews to seek permission for Internet access to their recordings. This is not the sense one gets from hearing about "all that oral history on the Web," or from doing a quick perusal of sites. Most sites do not tell you what they have done behind the scenes to get their material on the Web.
This investigation also showed us that UAF Oral History Program's use of full audio from interviews combined with photos and maps to provide greater context continues to be unique. Given the pressures and rapidity of change, we feel it is critical that our material get out on the Web as soon as possible. The original purpose of these Jukebox projects was to increase access to our resources. More and more, folks are turning to the Web for their information. They do not want to go to an archives, sometimes too far from their home, to listen to oral history. People want immediate access to information in the comfort of their home, according to their own time schedule. Just like Amazon.com or E-bay. The trend in libraries today is to deliver resources outside the walls of the building, or as Paul McCarthy, the director of UAF's Rasmuson Library says, "to turn the library inside out." Thus the explosion of the digital library concept. It offers library resources to users anywhere in the world. It is important to remember, however, that the rights and sensitivities of oral history speakers are different than books and must be adequately protected, if their words are to be heard so far and wide. It appears that the mainstream institutions putting oral history on the Web are trying to do just that.