Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wants to License Oral Histories

Dear Rich: I founded a nonprofit that is an archive of oral histories. A European museum wanted to feature three stories from my project in an exhibition. They asked me under what conditions I'd allow use of material belonging to the nonprofit and whether my license would also cover the rights of the three stories in particular. Since this is the first time I've had to seriously consider how to protect my work I'm unsure as to what I should request to ensure my work is safe. 
The answer depends on what rights you have to license. We reviewed your standard release and it authorizes your nonprofit to "use, reproduce, and/or publish video footage for educational and informative purposes" and to use it in "public affairs releases, or for other related endeavors." That language is suitable for using the material in association with your nonprofit, for example, at your website or perhaps at presentations made by the nonprofit. We're not clear about the meaning of "related endeavors" but, a conservative analysis would not include licensing the material to a third party. (We would feel better if the release specifically granted you the right to license the material to third parties.) If we're correct, you would should contact the subject and seek consent to license to the European museum. That makes sense, considering the personal nature of oral histories.
What should you seek from the museum? Once you have the necessary permissions from your subjects you would enter into a license agreement with the museum. You would need to define and limit reproduction and display/performance rights (how many copies, how many streams, what forms of media), length of license (how long the museum can use the material) and payment, if any. These arrangements are sometimes simple, sometimes complicated. We provide examples of these types of licenses with explanations in our book on permissions. Also, because it could be a challenge to enforce an agreement with a European museum, we'd suggest a little bit of research, if possible, to learn about the museum's past business dealings.