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Course & Subject Guides

Oral History Toolkit: A How-To and Resource Guide

This guide serves as a toolkit for students, staff and faculty who intend to create an oral history project or are curious about how to use oral histories as primary resources.

Donation Agreements and Release Forms

A donation agreement is a formal legally binding agreement between the donor and the repository providing guidance regarding what can and can't be done with a collection. These agreements spell out things like terms of access, reformatting, whether something can be placed online or used in-house only, restrictions, copyright to the material, and usage. These agreements are generally vetted by legal counsel, though there is room for discussion regarding some aspects of the agreement. If you are conducting an oral history project it is important that all parties participating in the interviews sign release forms. Without a release form access, use, and other aspects of making a collection usable may be limited.

Releases should be completed by both the person being interviewed and by the person doing the interviewing. These explicitly state what can and cannot be done with the interview. They let researchers know if there are any restrictions on the audio recording or the transcript or both. Sometimes an interview needs to be closed for a brief period of time. A release will provide those details. Releases are often presented to the interview candidate before the interview takes place. A&SC has developed a set of releases and guidelines that the person, group, or organization may wish to consider. These can always be modified to suit the project goals and outcomes. It is important to have someone with a legal background review all releases as they are legally binding documents.

Interview Releases

When preparing to conduct an oral history interview it is important to have the interview subjects as well as the interviewer complete release forms. These forms provide permission to make the interviews available for use in the project for which they were conducted and stipulate any restriction regarding use, deposit, or availability later.  These samples are based on examples and have been tailored to Archives & Special Collections in the University of Pittsburgh Library System. As with any agreement, it is important for any agreements to be vetted by legal council to ensure institutional compliance and legality.

A release form should be completed by every interview participant, including the interviewer. These are permanent documents that tell a researcher, interviewer, or institution what can and can't be done with the interview and its content.

Remember that the interview subject has copyright over their interview and the interview is subject to copyright law.

Language regarding what can be done includes:

  • Releasing the content into the public domain.  This means that anyone is free to use the interview content as they see fit. According to this is stated as, "A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner."
  • Transferring copyright to the institution who will have a non-exclusive license for the complete and unrestricted right to reproduce, publish, broadcast, transmit, perform or adapt the interview.
  • Retain the copyright to this interview and grant a non-exclusive license to the Library, for distribution to the public for non-commercial, educational purposes, in formats and settings that include, but are not limited to, print and electronic publications, events and exhibitions, internet websites, classrooms, and online. The Library may direct patrons requesting to use the interview for commercial purposes or purposes not allowed under Fair Use (Section 107, Title 17, U.S. Copyright Code), to the following address:

Oral history form that might be used to donate an interview to the archives.

Oral history form that might be used to donate an interview to the archives.