Saturday, 7 January 2017

Nobody is Going to Sue You For Sharing a Story

Eric Cartman
The potential privatisation of access to history at Boggo Road Gaol has raised a number of important issues relating to the practice and presentation of History. One of those questions is, what happens when you attempt to privatise folklore? I ask this because somebody sent me a link to a Facebook post written by a person claiming to have been on a ghost tour of Boggo Road. I won't link it here (I'm not sure it was an authentic account of events) but it did give an insight into the attempted privatisation of folklore, or the appropriation of memories. At one point this person writes:
"I won't go into detail of the stories and experiences told to us... as I don't want to be sued or have any sort of legal case thrown at me for using his material."
You can't get sued for talking about a story you heard on a guided tour. Sure, if you use that same specific sequence of words when doing your own tours or books then there would be a problem, but when it comes to the source material... nobody owns these stories. There's nothing you can hear on most tours that other people don't already know. If somebody tells me a story, that doesn't mean that I suddenly own it. I don't own their stories and I don't own their memories. And they've probably shared it with a lot of other people anyway.

So just like you can put a plot outline of Star Wars on Wikipedia without being sued by George Lucas, you can recap something you heard on a tour. Or write a review. For example, this review of a 'South Brisbane Cemetery Ghost Tour' appeared in QWeekend in September 2011 and critically recalls a number of story elements:

I have heard these claims of private ownership folklore before. When Tracey Olivieri was writing her book The Ghosts of South Brisbane Cemetery she received this veiled threat in an email from the owner of Brisbane 'Ghost Tours':
"The ghost stories and tales used our tours are from specific sources which can be identified. They are not common knowledge or in the public realm. They are our legal property."
So Tracey was told that she wasn't allowed to share the stories - even though that she had heard them as a kid growing up near the cemetery - because they now allegedly 'belonged' to somebody. The threat was ignored and Tracey moved ahead with her book as it was quite obvious that the claim of 'legal property' was baseless.

So there is no legal impediment to talking about - in your own words - something you heard on a tour. This nonsensical notion of folklore as private property really needs to be stamped out.

This article is abridged from one originally published in March 2013.

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