A Guide to Oral History and the Law by John A. Neuenschwander (review)
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A Guide to Oral History and the Law( 2 ndEdition). By John A. Neuenschwander. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 149 pages. Softbound, $26.95.

A Guide to Oral History and the Lawis the definitive go-to guide for oral historians interested in the legal issues that affect oral history; this second edition expands its scope to cover the impact of digital technologies on oral history. Author John A. Neuenschwander attacks this subject matter with the same zest and practicality that one would expect from a professor emeritus of history and a retired municipal judge. It is an easy read that is written succinctly and without complicated legal jargon. Neuenschwander's goal from the start is to educate oral historians on the legal issues they may confront in their work so they can develop sound policies and procedures to avoid legal problems in the future.

Oral history has grown immensely in recent years, along with its acceptance as both an academic and historical research discipline. With such growth, it is expected that legal controversies will increasingly make their way into oral history. In this sea of uncertainty, Neuenschwander navigates the reader through the currents where oral history and law do in fact collide. A Guide to Oral History [End Page 431] and the Lawis divided into nine chapters and a generous appendix at the end. The appendix has two parts; the first contains sample forms and the second contains the principles and best practices for oral history.

The first chapter begins appropriately with a cautionary real-life case study involving a lawsuit between an oral historian and an oral history program for which she volunteered. After eleven years of partnership, the parties found themselves embroiled in a protracted legal controversy over who owned the rights to the eighty interviews conducted. Apparently, not all that begins well ends well, and the lesson learned is that an ounce of prevention can avoid unnecessary pain and expense in the future.

The nuts and bolts for this legal tome begin with chapter two and the all-important legal release agreement. As Neuenschwander explains, the legal release agreement is the backbone for an oral history program. In the end, the legal release agreement protects and defines the rights and obligations for both interviewee and interviewer. Throughout the second chapter, Neuenschwander discusses the various legal release agreements and clauses that are typically used in most oral history contexts, ranging from a standard release to a deed of gift. Incorporated in the chapter are helpful discussions that address specific legal concerns related to legal releases, along with examples and suggestions for dealing with those concerns.

The confidentiality of oral history interviews and how they can be compelled to be released is addressed in chapter three. In both a historical and legal context, Neuenschwander reviews the competing interests for confidentiality of oral history interviews versus their mandated release as evidence in civil and criminal cases, as well as for freedom of information requests. Given the possibility of forced exposure of the contents of their interviews, Neuenschwander cautions oral historians to temper the expectations of interviewees for privacy while taking certain steps to minimize the scope of intrusion.

Chapters four and five focus on the contents of an oral history interview and the legal exposure for those who would publish materials that could be construed to be defamatory or invade a right to privacy. Neuenschwander illuminates how oral historians and oral history programs could find themselves in proverbial hot water by simply providing public access to an oral history interview that contains certain legally objectionable material. Given this reality, Neuenschwander provides specific strategies for avoiding lawsuits in all these areas.

As expected, a significant portion of A Guide to Oral History and the Lawis dedicated to copyright law. Chapter six provides an in-depth description of copyright, its purpose, limitations, and infringement. Additionally, Neuenschwander provides resources and information for the oral historian interested in registering her or his own copyright for oral history interviews. Chapter seven, on the other hand, addresses the impact the Internet has on copyright [End Page 432]and how oral historians can seek to protect their interests...