Monday, July 1, 2013

Remember being called a copy cat as a child....Well it may still apply

I have noticed a problem lately regarding copy issues when it comes to genealogy. Some issues are in regards to photographs being copied by others and (to me the main issue) the copying of the written word of others without the author's permission. 

There are two sides to this story. There are people out there that love to share their photos and stories and do not care who copies and pastes them. Then there are those who feel that they have worked hard and have dedicated much of their lives to collect these photos and stories and do not wish them to be copied willy nilly.

Everyday I see posts on Ancestry's Facebook page that have arguments a mile long for and against copy and paste.


I for one was upset when I saw my grandmother's wedding photo attached on another person's tree. The person who copied it is not even a relation to my grandmother. Then as I continued to look, I found  my great great grandfather's photo as well and several of my grandfather's photos. To top it all off other people have copied it from the first person to do so and before I knew it my personal family photos were all over the internet. Not only have my photos been taken from my website but from my Find a Grave memorials as well.

While the person who copied did add that it came from my website, they did not ask for my permission. Permission is the key word in this whole affair. I think most people out there feel that they should have been asked before their photos were copied.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "What's the big deal? After all you added them to the internet in the first place. The internet is free. Once you put something out there anyone can just copy it." After all it is 2013, and people  copy music and movies from the internet  all the time, so why not photos and stories too?

This is a misconception. Everything on the internet is not free.

At this point I would like to refer you to an excellent blog article on the topic of old photos from the blog  The Legal Genealogist.

Personal Opinion

I felt I had every right to add my family photos to my personal website and blog. I did so because I wanted to leave something for future generations of my family. Not so just anyone could come and copy and distribute my photos. I never once considered that anyone would care to copy a photo or a story of a person not related to them at all. My answer to this was to remove all cherished photos and add only photos that I did not mind being copied. But, of course for some photos the damage was done. I also now add watermarks to my photos so I can be sourced if someone does copy them.

That being said, I do not ever mind giving permission to a family member to copy any information I have on the internet. However, I would like to know who is copying it, what is being done with it and who will have access to it.

From what I have seen in reading the discussions about this issue, is that most people upset about their photos being copied are upset over the fact that they weren't asked first. They often state that they would like to know who you are, why you want the photo, and how you are related to them. They would like to be approached for any possible family connections. So, before being a copy cat; contact that person, ask politely for a copy of the photo and give reasons as to how you are related, or why you would like the copy. A little courtesy goes a long way.

Find A Grave and  Copyright

A person who holds the copyright of a photo according to Find a Grave is:

Ownership of a copy of a photograph is not the same as owning the copyright of the work of the photograph. The owner of the work is usually the photographer (or their employer), not the subject of the photo nor the person who has a copy of the photograph.  

So in other words, If I went out and took the photo of my great grandfather's headstone, you have no business copying it.

The Written Word

Now on to personal family stories. Which is what I feel is the real issue at hand. These are written by a specific author and are subject to copyright. You can not just go and copy what you choose. Would you take a favorite book and copy it  and put it on the internet? No. A person would understand that they were violating copyright laws. The same applies to blogs, and websites. Copyright is automatic when a person adds original work to the internet.  My text is under copyright.

Once again I refer you to The Legal Genealogist blog where it is discussed in better detail.

This is what Find a Grave says in regards to obituaries:

You should not copy obituary notices from newspapers to an individual's memorial record unless you have permission from the newspaper to do so or you are the author of the obituary. Some obituaries that were published in 1922 or earlier are now in the public domain. In general, obituaries in newspapers are submitted by the family with assistance from the funeral home. If the obituary is added to the memorial record, it should list the newspaper and date the obit was printed for example "Published in the Hattiesburg American, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Internet Edition, April 11, 2007". Please do not include the names of living or surviving relatives in the biography, unless you have their permission. If you do not have permission to copy an obituary to a memorial, you may put a note stating the name of the newspaper and the date the obituary was published.
Please do NOT add photographs from obituary notices (unless you, personally took the photo), as they are protected by copyright law. Find A Grave reserves the right to remove obituary notices and photographs from memorial records. Similarly, you may NOT scan an obituary and add it as a photograph to a memorial record.
I personally have an issue with the whole adding obituaries to Find a Grave. Most argue that this is what the site is intended for. I always thought it was for those who may not be able to visit their loved ones grave site.

The bottom line is; become more informed on the policies of the websites you are using. Most people do not think to read the fine print on genealogy sites.  Here is the link to Ancestry and Find a Grave's policies. Be more sensitive to the owner of the website and the information you are wanting to borrow. Ask permission before copying that photo and cite your sources.

What the National Genealogical Society has to say about sharing with others:
Standards For Sharing Information With Others
Recommended by the National Genealogical Society
Conscious of the fact that sharing information or data with others (whether through speech, documents, or electronic media) is essential to family history research and that it needs continuing support and encouragement, responsible family historians consistently—
  • Respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another as an author, originator or compiler; as a living private person; or as a party to a mutual agreement
  • Observe meticulously the legal rights of copyright owners, copying or distributing any part of their works only with their permission, or to the limited extent specifically allowed under the law's "fair use" exceptions
  • Identify the sources for all ideas, information and data from others, and the form in which they were received, recognizing that the unattributed use of another's intellectual work is plagiarism
  • Respect the authorship rights of senders of letters, electronic mail and data files, forwarding or disseminating them further only with the sender's permission
  • Inform people who provide information about their families as to the ways it may be used, observing any conditions they impose and respecting any reservations they may express regarding the use of particular items
  • Require some evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing of information about themselves
  • Convey personal identifying information about living people—like age, home address, occupation or activities—only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to
  • Recognize that legal rights of privacy may limit the extent to which information from publicly available sources may be further used, disseminated or published
  • Communicate no information to others that is known to be false, or without making reasonable efforts to determine its truth, particularly information that may be derogatory
  • Are sensitive to the hurt that revelations of criminal, immoral, bizarre or irresponsible behavior may bring to family members
© 2000 by National Genealogical Society.
Permission is granted to copy or publish this material, provided
it is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.

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