Book Cautions Legal Issues of Oral History

Review by James Pylant

A Guide to Oral History and the Law. By John Neuenschwander. Hardcover (2009), 192 pp., $19.95. Published by Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016-4314.

More than twenty years ago, John Neuenschwander wrote Oral History and the Law, his first guidebook exploring the legal angles for the oral historian. Now as an updated version, A Guide to Oral History and the Law reflects new challenges facing the use of oral history. Neuneschwander, Professor of History Emeritus at Carthage College and the Municipal Judge for the City of Kenosha, Wisconsin, covers the gamut—copyright, defamation, privacy issues, and legal release agreements.

Most notable in this update is the chapter, “Oral History on the Internet.” While Neuenschwander sees an online presence as a wonderful opportunity for archivists and librarians to promote visibility of their collections, easy access and portability also opens the door for misuse if not abuse. The author points out that postings via chat rooms and blogs are responsible for the increase in defamation suits involving the Internet, but he adds that “the odds that someone might discover defamatory statements in audio or transcript materials on a Web site are certainly far greater than if the only access is on-site.”

An appendix includes several very useful samples of legal release forms, such as deed of gift, consent and permission forms, and assignment of copyright. A Guide to Oral History and the Law shares important advice relevant to students, historians, and genealogists.

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