Schools and young people

Being legal and ethical

Here is some advice on how to deal with copyright, GDPR and treating your interviewees with respect

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Rights, ethics and agreements

Considerations when working with children

Follow your school’s child protection policy throughout the project. Be aware that when interviewing each other, children sometimes reveal personal things that their families might not want shared. For example, during one inner-city project on crime, several children revealed they had family members in prison. It’s worth telling the children that oral history is very personal and that they don’t have to answer any questions they don’t want to. Explain that they must treat each other’s experiences with respect and not gossip about them. 

Considerations when interviewing adults

Adults can also be unguarded in what they say, because being asked to talk about yourself without interruption is unusual and triggers all kinds of memories. Be clear about the purpose of the project and how the recording will be used. Just before recording starts remind them to only share memories that they’re happy to be made public.  

When people have shared very personal memories, they can feel vulnerable. It’s a good idea to reassure them immediately after the interview and write a thank you – or get the children to do so – as soon as possible. The letter can remind them how the interview will be used.

Some groups of adults, such as the elderly, may not fully understand what they are agreeing to or where you plan to share their recordings. Take time to explain things carefully, in plain and simple language, to ensure they understand.

People often talk about others when they are being interviewed. As a creator of digital content you have a legal and ethical responsibility to ALL the people that feature in the recording. This is governed by Data Protection Law and breaches could lead to fines for your school. It’s not OK to publish:

  • Anything that hasn’t been agreed with the interviewee (see Getting permission section below)
  • Any part of a recording that reveals personal information about someone else or might cause them distress or harm

So to be safe:

  • Don’t publish large unedited recordings on-line
  • Listen carefully to your recordings before you publish. Are other people mentioned? Are they living and identifiable? Could the content be interpreted as offensive or defamatory (damaging to the persons reputation)?
  • Select unproblematic extracts to upload to the website
  • Write summaries of your recordings, with timecodes that make it easy to know where problematic sections occur. This will help any archive that takes long term care of your recordings.

Getting permission

You must always gain written permission from the people that you are interviewing, in order to record them and then use the recording. Before the interview, explain what your project is about and what you plan to do with your recordings. Ask the interviewee to sign a participation agreement to show they are happy to take part. 

After the interview, the interviewee will know what they have said in the recording and can decide if they want to share it. Ask them to sign a recording agreement to show they are happy for it to be made public. In the agreement you can ask them to assign copyright to your school or project, this will allow you to use the interview for a website, exhibition, publication, app – or whatever medium may be invented in future! If the person does not want to transfer copyright, then you will need to ask their permission every time you use the recording in public.

Did you know that you should also get written permission from your pupils’ parent/guardian too? Any pupil that features in the recording also has legal rights as to how it is used. If they are visible in the film, or if their voice can be heard asking questions, you should get written permission. If the interviewee has bought along photos and is allowing you to copy them, you should get a written agreement for that too.

As a school you must keep the agreement forms securely, to show that you have complied with Copyright and Data Protection Law. For more detailed information about GDPR see the OHS GDPR Guidance and the ICO website.

Download examples of simple agreement forms

A simple participation agreement template

A simple recording agreement template

These pages for schools and youth groups were compiled by Oral History Society Regional Networkers, Julia Letts and Helen Lloyd.  We would like to thank the following people who contributed ideas: Martin Bisiker, Gosia Brown, Stuart Butler, Rib Davis, Sarah Gudgin, Colin Hyde, Mary Ingoldby, Stephen Kelly, Rosa Kurowska, Sarah Lowry, Kate Melvin, John Ross, Pam Schweitzer, Kath Smith, Leanne Swales and Siobhan Warrington.

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