As Copyright Administrator for the Decoding Hidden Heritages project, it’s my role to investigate the copyright status of the sound material and transcriptions in the Tale Archive.

Everyone involved with a sound recording has copyright to their material. As a result, it can be a lengthy process when checking which individuals are involved with a recording, and if The School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) hold records of copyright assignation. Typically, the search must go outwith SSSA and that’s when I feel like donning my deerstalker! Today I will highlight some of that process.

We come across a number of contributors who are down as Unknown or Anonymous in our collections. There can be a few different reasons why this happened; not everyone’s names were captured by the fieldworker, or it was a cataloguing error. Sometimes people just wished to remain anonymous – either they were too shy to go on record, or the material may have been deemed too sensitive. These days, we have distinct copyright and Data Protection rules to safeguard sensitive material. We also have methods to close or mute someone’s material for a set period of time rather than anonymising completely or forever. So there is some flexibility in the approaches that we can take.

If persons are not explicitly named for a recording, it doesn’t mean we can assume that copyright can be cleared on that basis alone – we still have to do our due diligence. Given that this week marks International Woman’s Day 2022 (March 8) – let’s look at an example of two anonymous women in the Tale Archive.
index card featuring tales recorded by two anonmyous women in 1959This card refers to part of the recording SA1959.027 – but it doesn’t give us much information, other than it was recorded in Smearisary, Glenuig and the story is of Murchag  is Meanchag/Murchag A’s Mionachag.

My next step was to look at what is included on the whole recording. On checking the Summary book for 1959, it shows that this was a recording made by Calum Maclean, Basil Megaw and Ian Whittaker. The other contributors on the tape were Angus MacNeill, Sandy Gillies and “Anon Woman A”, “Anon Woman B / Mrs MacDonald (?)” and “Anon Woman C”. Not terribly enlightening, in the grand scheme of things! Even if Anon Woman B might be a Mrs MacDonald, it doesn’t give us anything to go on. From here I went down to the archive store room to look at the original tape box  – sometimes there was a listing completed at the time of recording and included in the box.

A beautiful listing both outside and inside the box, but  – as an archive colleague from the past has noted, in pencil – “Who are the informants?”

Listening to the recording itself can be helpful in some cases, because often the name is given at some point – but my Gaelic is not yet good enough for this tape.

So, what now? I will contact our colleagues at Tobar an Dualchais because parts of this tape are available to listen to online; these recordings are by the named contributors. It is possible when their researchers were seeking copyright that they were able to find out who these anonymous female storytellers were. I will keep you updated.

It’s really important to find out who unknown people in our collections are and, if possible, put a name to the voice and acknowledge their important contribution in the archives. I include a very short extract of Anon Woman A and Anon Woman B / Mrs Macdonald (?), of Smearisary and thank them for making my job so interesting!

This clip is placed here on a risk-balanced approach and that is another part of the process for another blog post!

Extract from SA1959.027 from collection of School of Scottish Studies Archives.


Louise Scollay, Copyright Administrator