Saturday, December 3, 2011

The lie at the core of StoryCorps

(Or is it the con of a lifetime?)
    (Dec. 3, 2013) The lie at the core of StoryCorps is that it enables you to share "profound, intimate" moments with a loved one in a recording booth, and then -- if you sign a consent form -- to have that interview archived for posterity at the Library of Congress. What a lovely, heartwarming idea!
    The truth at the core of this fundamentally dishonest and calculating operation is that the consent form has been deliberately misrepresented to tens of thousands of people, who had no idea that they were signing over the copyright to their stories and photos to StoryCorps, "permanently and irrevocably," permitting the "nonprofit" to use their "sacred" interactions in countless ways. It has already turned people -- many of them dead -- into amusing cartoons, as well as books and DVDs. It wouldn't surprise me at all if StoryCorps employs its "intellectual property rights" to develop an "Our Town"-like theatrical production, or maybe even a rock opera like "Rent," or a multimedia museum exhibit, with your face projected on the walls, and your voice wafting through the gallery. Maybe a caricature of you will appear on T-shirts, tote bags and mugs.You have no say in the matter, as StoryCorps explores new media to exploit your likeness and precious moments. You are the raw material it has dug up to dump into its self-promoting processing plant and to "create more content," as the CEO puts it.

Would you like to be turned into a totally unrecognizable caricature?
      StoryCorps' business model has become quite chilling: It continues to collect thousands of priceless human interactions, freely given under false pretenses, in order to amass a treasure trove of  touching gems  for its various projects, present and future.
    Although I was able to obtain a copy of the consent form, it was supposed to be kept secret, according to CEO Isay, to prevent "copycats" from stealing his seductive methodology, which he characterizes as his "intellectual property." He defends its predatory nature, however, by claiming it is "standard" in the oral-history business. How can it be secret and proprietary if it's standard, David? Think before you blurt!
    The reason it's secret is that it is abusive. It is larcenous. It would embarrass this cute little "charity" if people read what it asks of its beloved constituents.
    This is just the top part of the fine print: 

"TRANSFER OF RIGHTS: In consideration of the recording and preservation of the Interview, conducted on or about the date set forth below, I hereby relinquish and transfer to StoryCorps all title and literary property rights that I have or may be deemed to have in the Interview. I understand that these rights include all rights, title and interest in any copyright, pursuant to United States copyright laws. I understand that my conveyance of copyright encompasses the exclusive rights of reproduction, distribution, and preparation of derivative works, as well as all renewals and extensions.
     I understand that StoryCorps and its licensees may, without further approval on my part, exhibit, distribute, edit, reproduce, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and broadcast the Interview, or any portion thereof, in all media, including but not limited to: radio, television, compact disc, in print, and on the Internet, as well as any successor technologies, whether now existing or hereafter developed."
    You also agree that StoryCorps “may use my name, voice, photographic likeness and life story in connection with the exhibition, reproduction, distribution, publication, public performance, public display, broadcast, and promotion of StoryCorps, without further approval on my part." 

    No wonder Isay doesn't want anyone to read this. Who would sign it? He has scrambled pathetically to cover his ass as questions were posed to him by CPB representives, but it is clear that he is both disingenuous and that he has lost touch with what actually goes on in his $10 million per year, 140-employee operation. He primarily stuttered and expressed uncertainty or surprise during his meeting with CPB. Other than that, he made false claims and employed twisted logic to keep from losing face.

    Isay asserts that the extensive consent form is carefully reviewed by StoryCorps facilitators with interviewees, to be sure they understand what rights they are relinquishing. There is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. In every email I have received, interviewees were told merely that by signing the consent form, they were simply giving permission to have their interviews archived for posterity. The Google entries I have posted below corroborate this, as does StoryCorps own web site. I have found nothing online that depicts the purpose of the consent form in any other way.

    Even after being confronted by CPB with the deceptive wording StoryCorps uses to get the release form signed (which he flatly denied: he claims there is always full disclosure), Isay did something astonishingly revealing:
    He appeared in a video interview on the Huffington Post site prior to the Thanksgiving Special in which he repeated the precise, deceptive wording he had denied is used: He stated that signing the consent form merely allows StoryCorps to have your interview archived at the Library of Congress. Period. (
    He did not disclose -- as we have proven repeatedly -- that the "fine print" legalizes a sweeping transfer of rights from you to StoryCorps. It gives StoryCorps ownership.
    On the video, Isay said he was surprised that so many people sign away even this minor invasion of privacy, because "these are intimate, profound monents" that occur in the recording booth.

    And there is no evidence in the official job description for a StoryCorps facilitator -- which is very detailed and quite challenging -- that the facilitator is expected to explain the release form. There is no mention of the  release form, although facilitators do have a duty to solicit donations:

Essential Duties and Responsibilities of the StoryCorps Facilitator:

* Welcome participants to the Booth and guide them through the interview process, asking questions as appropriate
* Handle all technical aspects of making the recordings
* Provide the participants with a CD copy of their interview
* Perform data entry and archival processing tasks to ensure preservation of interviews and an accurate record the day’s activity
* Actively guide the content of any interviews conducted with participants who have been specially recruited by the Production Department
* Exhibit sensitivity to the special needs of all participants and to those of specific target populations of StoryCorps special initiatives and diversity goals
* Identify and edit tape from interviews to be considered for broadcast; learn to use and demonstrate proficiency with Pro Tools
* Provide administrative support to the MobileBooth Site Supervisor and Senior Coordinator
* Solicit donations from participants; accurately process and record transactions
* Act as interviewer to solo participants
* Professionally represent StoryCorps to the public and actively promote the StoryCorps mission
* Participate in regular staff meetings
* Under the direction of the Senior Coordinator and Site Supervisor, engage in community outreach activities, including developing and managing relationships with community partner organizations in host cities
* Work with the MobileBooth Team to continually improve services at the MobileBooth and proactively problem-solve issues that arise
* Perform minor maintenance and cleaning of recording venues and sites
* Perform other tasks to support the Mobile Department and StoryCorps, as assigned.

Below are merely a handful of the dozens of  Google entries that describe how the release form is presented to patrons. It is blatantly clear that StoryCorps patrons do not give their  informed consent to the rights they are signing away.

StoryCorps | What to Expect
He or she will also explain the release form, which allows StoryCorps to keep one copy and send another to the archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Preparing For Your StoryCorps Interview - Bellmore Memorial Library
Release Forms (4 min) – The Facilitator will explain StoryCorps' release forms, which allow your library and StoryCorps to keep copies of the interview and send another to the archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

One Book, One Chicago - The Warmth of Other Suns - StoryCorps ...

He or she will also explain the release form, which allows StoryCorps and the Chicago Public Library to keep one copy and send another to the archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

StoryCorps' MobileBooth wants you | Features | Charleston City Paper

Oct 31, 2012 - "StoryCorps" is emblazoned on both sides in bright orange. ... They also have the option of signing a release form to allow the interview to be  archived at the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, and to be considered for broadcast on the radio.


Storyline Spring 09 Final - Craig Harrison's Expressions of Excellence
The Story of StoryCorps: Celebrating the Story in Each of Us. By Craig Harrison ... And a release form signed by most authorizes a copy to be shared for posterity ...

FW: 5 Openings for AmeriCorps Conversations to be Recorded by ...
Aug 28, 2012 - StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide ... and explain the release form, which allows StoryCorps to keep one copy and send another to the Library of Congress.

DocArchive: StoryCorps - Part One | VoiceBase
May 13, 2011 - That's the future for participants of StoryCorps, an American oral history ... a release form it goes to the library of congress will be preserved for generations.

Power to Learn - It's All About the Stories
Jan 3, 2011 - He or she will also explain the release form, which allows StoryCorps to keep one copy and send another to the archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

StoryCorps' MobileBooth wants you | Airstream Adventures Northwest
Nov 20, 2012 - "StoryCorps" is emblazoned on both sides in bright orange. ... They also have the option of signing a release form to allow the interview to be archived at the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, and to be considered for broadcast on the radio.

StoryCorps a great way to save family history |
Sep 21, 2013 - StoryCorps, a nonprofit program now in its 10th year, is a great way to ... You sign release forms afterward and can agree or not to have the interview used by the Library of Congress.
    It can be very rewarding to participate in a project such as StoryCorps, if one can trust in the good faith of those to whom we entrust our lives' memorable moments. That doesn't seem to be the case with this particular oral history project.