Professional Storyteller

Share a Story - Change the World

Last week I checked a book out of the library (title with held) that was full of wonderful stories. Some of the stories I would love to add to my list and put into my own shows. Of course, I like to give credit to the author of a new story, also if I tell a traditional tale like someone else’s version, I gave credit to them. Most of the time, I like to find as many versions of the story as I can and then work it over until it’s mine, them I tell it.
However, in this book, (when I went to see if it had a reference section) I found a not to other storytellers. It said in basic, If you use one of these stories, you must tell it just as you heard it, and give me credit before and after the telling . Granted, there were some stories in the book I had not read before, but it was full of traditional tales and even an urban legend. To claim these stories as their own? I was shocked. When I told my wife, she told me that she had looked up a web-site of stories (I don’t know which one) that made a similar claim.
Now, I’m new in the national storytelling scene, but is this common? Am I going to be telling a story at a festival and have some one tell me “That’s my story! You can’t tell it!” Or are these just isolated incidents and I shouldn’t worry about it. I will say right now, if you here me tell a story and you like it, be best complement you could give me is to tell your own version. I will even be happy to give you a bibliography if I have one. (If its one I wrote, just mention where you got it, or rewrite it to make it your own.) Stories only live if they’re told.
Tell me, What do you think?

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Comment by True Thomas the Storyteller on April 11, 2008 at 8:27pm
I will never be a member of the dead story society- If someone created a story from whole cloth, then yes, I suppose it is theirs. But why tell it, if you are not sharing it. I think it's the height of ignorance and folly to stand on the giant mountain of folklore and myth, and the art of storytelling in general, carving a chip off and saying...THIS IS MINE, YOU NEED MY PERMISSION is hubris. Ironically, hearing a well told tale, and telling it in the same manner is how all this got started!
is how oral tradition works. That's the deal! Let's get the lawyers and ego's out of American storytelling. Because that is what this all about. If it's a personal story, from your life, then by all means- it's your's and other folks should ask. But if you are using trad/folk/etc's on loan to you. Instead of worrying about how somebody else is using "YOUR"story, worry about the real importance- how did it tell? Was it better? Worse? Interesting twist? Feel free to pass this on to all the other members of the dead story society. Abuse of copyrights is going to strangle our society- and then only the bravest of storytellers, off where mikes can't hear them, will keep them all alive.
Comment by Lois Sprengnether Keel (LoiS) on April 9, 2008 at 12:24am
I remember a conference where a judge who is also a storyteller argued that some of the books specifically for storytellers would have a hard time stopping you from telling the stories in those books. That doesn't give you permission to record them, however. You also ought to give the story's background.

Margaret Read MacDonald has books of that type & has had to get her publisher's permission to record her own stories! At the same time, I found it interesting that in her workshops she tries to get people telling & is so generous with her stories, which, after all are folktales. She's done the research, but the folk literature deserves to be shared. As she is a folklorist, I appreciate that & agree with Macsek that stories live by being told. If I've a chance to keep stories alive with my telling, then it deserves telling. Public Domain was meant to keep works alive. They're a cultural heritage. Watch out, I'm about to get on my soapbox about the extended copyright laws.

Stopping just before the rant begins.
Comment by Don 'Buck P' Creacy on April 6, 2008 at 7:13am
Hey Daniel;

All you can do is report how you learned the story. They have been picked up, told, retold, slightly modified, and some fixed so that "only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. You can only report honestly where you learned the story, if you got it from a camp counselor, and you didn't do the work to find out where it came from (different topic), then you can tell the counselor's name and when you learned it from them. If you got your version from a book, it is a very good idea to own that book and reference it when you tell that story.

I am also sorry for the fish confusion... a Beta Fish is a beautiful tropical fish which is very territorial and aggressive toward others of it own species and in my opinion apparently some of them have become storytellers marking off their territory and attempting to own huge areas of traditional tales.

What I have seen in my exposure to storytelling is that there are some, very few, who won't do the work of creating their own work or versions of traditional stories. I have also seen a few individuals who set their tents skirts pretty wide in the name of "owning" a type of story. For example, I would have to go to the hospital and have them check my heart if I were to say out loud. I was born in the oil fields of West Texas and unless you were born in the oil fields of Texas and raised in a trailer like me. You can't tell stories of oilfields, Texas or trailers... If you read out loud I hope you laugh because it is a ridiculous statement and I hope you laugh again when you hear similar statements in the context of a storyteller, marking off their territory.

Another illustration of the same territorial idea is the Spartans, you may already know the Spartan newborn child was examined for flaws... if one was found, the child was left to the elements to die. Spartans were "perfect" warriors, and only Spartans could be Spartans. In truth the Spartans were for all intents were nearly perfect warriors of the day. Still, when they saw their numbers dwindling and they held onto their traditions until there were no Spartans left. I don't think there are any of us young tellers who haven't felt "left to the elements" by other "perfect warriors" because we might have a flaw or twenty.

I think nature (the beta fish) and history (the Spartans... and oh so many others...) give us good examples of what NOT to do in our storytelling world.

I agree with you. Don't steal stories. I would add, do the work, your accuser might find out in a red faced way that your story actually came from Stephen Butler Leahcock, 1869 -1944, the Canadian Mathematian and Humorist instead of from "their book." But the only thing to do... is the work to dig out the roots of the story.

Someday, when I ask, someone might say "no" and when they do... I won't tell the story. But both of us can help our batting average a lot in regards to asking permission, by knowing "who" we are about to ask for the story. If you see "a beautiful tropical fish with an aggressive presence" or "a perfect warrior" maybe you don't want that story after all.

You can hear "Three Penny Momma" on my page here at PS. First audio file on my play list.

Comment by Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller on April 5, 2008 at 11:17pm
Dianne, you speak truth. If you are a storyreader, and read a story straight from the book, then I hope you also read the title page as well. And if you are performing the story as a memorized script then all royalties and credit should be payed. I tell a few stories that I tell word for word, like “Little Orphant Annie” by James Witcomb Riley, in which I give him full credit either in word or the program or both. But like in the story, “The Three Dolls” or the “The King’s Riddle” (same storyline, different titles) a good storyteller never tells a story the same way they hear it. (David Novak recorded a wonderful version of this story in the book Ready-To-Tell Tales edited by David Holt and Bill Mooney, published by August House) I have heard storytellers tell this story many times. Some versions are like David’s and some are very different. But even when there different, if you heard David’s first then you will know the ending.
Buck, I don’t understand what you mean by “Bata Fish”. I haven’t heard your story “Three Penny Momma” before. (I would love to, it sound like a good story) But if I were to tell it as mine, word for word, that would be stealing, your life, not just a story. However if your story were to inspire a story from my life or the life of a friend, and the two stories had common themes, how would you react? Is this the same? Like I said before, if I tell a story, and it inspires someone enough to create a story of there own, I would be honored.
I also agree to a point with Csenge, if you don’t want your story shared, don’t tell it. My worry is this. I was telling at a small festival and someone came up to me and asked if the story I told came from a certain book. I had never read that book before, but when I did the story that I told and the story that was in the book were very much alike. I heard the story from a camp counselor who said he heard it from his grandfather. What if the author of the book was the one who talked to me? What if they had put in the book, ‘you must tell these stories the way I did and you must give me credit’? The stories take on a life of their own would hate to have to second guess myself every time I tell a story.
Copyright laws aside, (your can’t copyright a storyline, only written text or recorded material) I don’t want to be the one who offends other storytellers because they think I stole their stories. I maybe worrying for nothing, but...
What do you think?
Comment by Don 'Buck P' Creacy on April 4, 2008 at 7:56pm
Hey Daniel

Ever hear of a Beta Fish? You are doing the perfect thing, don't take credit for something you didn't write or create. Give credit to those who allow you to tell their stories, call them and ask... I have yet to ask and to be told "no you can't tell my story."

But then again, it is very important to know your fish... a let the beta's be.


Our world needs to be an inclusive world. If you ask me if you can tell my personal story... "Three Penny Momma" I am going to ask you why do you need to tell it? If you say that you are an orphan and you want to tell a supportive story for orphans. I am going to tell you to write your own story... not out of territorialism... But because you are being lazy and you need to develop you own stories. If you tell me, because you are going to speak to a group and you will give me credit and that this story will be the perfect fit. I will tell you "Yes you can tell the story. But make sure everyone knows that it is Buck's Mom, Mary Lois Petty Creacy that is the real Three Penny Momma."

Some people truly believe they can hold onto their treasures and keep others from touching them. Stories are treasures to be shared by giving... but I never give to lazy people... ever.
Comment by Dianne de Las Casas, Founder on April 4, 2008 at 2:47pm

The story as written in the book by that author is indeed copyrighted and belongs to that author, especially if you tell it word for word. If the story is a traditional tale, you are welcome to research other versions of the story and adapt a version of your own. When researching stories, just be sure to write down your sources so that you will always have access to them. Copyright law can be tricky and it's better to err on the side of caution.

Comment by Csenge Zalka on April 4, 2008 at 1:49pm
I think it... (delete both Hungarian and English swearwords)
I absolutely agree with you. Stories only live if they are told.
Original stories are tricky, but folktales shouldn't ever be claimed as somebody's own (and if they are, well, in the name of Momos great spirit of tricksters and mockery... they should have kept them locked up, and not written down in a book. Their fault if I tell it. Come and catch me;)
No, seriously. I still couldn't quite wrap my head around this folktale versus copyright issue...



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