When questions about copyright are asked on the
mailing list. I often suggest those questions be directed to
COPYRIGHT-L, declaring the subject off-topic for Freepages-Help. How
can copyright questions be off topic on a list about creating websites?
- Many of the questions are not about copyright of a
website. Instead they tend
to run along the lines of: "How do I stop someone else from
grandpa's birthdate?" (Answer: You can't)
- Many Freepages-Help subscribers are new to web
publishing and are not
necessarily the best source for informed answers to questions about
- Copyright law can be complex and even a seemingly
simple question can result in
extending over days or weeks. Extended discussions about copyright
the COPYRIGHT-L Archives where they can be found by others looking for
to similar questions.
For quick reference, here are answers to some of the questions asked
often on Freepages-Help. They are not "official" answers from RootsWeb;
am not a
lawyer so they are not legal advice. You'll find links to
sites I have found useful following the FAQ.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How do I copyright my website?
Your website is automatically copyrighted just as
soon as it is "fixed in any tangible medium of expression". However,
just because your web page or site as a whole is copyrighted, it
does not necessarily mean everything it contains is copyrighted by you.
Copyright can only be claimed for an "an original work of authorship". [17
It protects for a limited time
the exclusive rights of an author to his original intellectual concepts.
Well, for example, this web page is copyrighted by
me. My copyright existed
immediately when I saved it to the hard drive on my computer. The
arrangement, descriptions and explanations are my original
this page also contains preexisting material (quotations) that I did
create, but discovered and copied
or transcribed from the original source. That preexisting material
the property of the original copyright holder; or, if the material is
domain, it belongs to the community at large, and no one can claim
Can I copyright my genealogy research?
Your work as a whole is a compilation which is
copyrighted as soon as you
have written it down, or recorded it in such a way that
it can be visually perceived by others. However, since any genealogy
necessarily consists in large part of preexisting material,
the bulk of your
family history is probably not copyrighted by you.
Family stories, descriptions, explanations, and/or conclusions that you
have written yourself and
expressed in your own words are copyrighted by you as soon as you have
down, on paper or on your computer.
Quotations from works by other authors, whether a county history
published 100 years ago, or a family history you received last week
cousin, are copyrighted by
the original author or publisher. If the copyright has expired and the
has passed into the public domain, including it in your family tree or
not give you a
new copyright on that preexisting material.
Facts can not be copyrighted. [17
"This is because facts
do not owe their origin to an act of authorship. The distinction is one
creation and discovery: The first person to find and report a
has not created the fact; he or she has merely discovered its
You wouldn't dream ( I hope ) of trying to claim copyright of
the fact that 2 + 2 = 4. The same logic and law applies to facts such
as, John SMITH was born 1 Jan 1880, or
Aunt Minnie was buried in Tullahassee, Oklahoma.
No matter how much time, money, and effort you have expended in
discovering and compiling them,
facts remain public domain.
How can I stop someone else from copying my tree and including it in
As discussed above, facts are public domain and are
"free for the
taking ... even if the author was the first to discover the facts"
may extract and use the facts from your website or tree. On the
other hand, if your tree is in narrative form and you have written:
John SMITH was born on a cold and
snowy night at the beginning of
in the heart of
one of the worst winters neighboring residents of the Texas panhandle
you have created an original work by clothing the facts with an
description of those facts. The words you use to describe the facts are
copyrighted, even though the
underlying facts are not.
Can I include material copyrighted by others in my family website?
The doctrine of "Fair Use" is a statutory exemption
from copyright liability.
Fair use allows exceptions "for
purposes such as criticism,
comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research".
But determining what is and is not fair use is
far from straightforward.
It is usually safe to quote a sentence or two. However, if
"heart" of the work, that may still be copyright infringement. Harper, IVp9
When in doubt (which should be most of the time) obtain permission from the
in writing and
always credit the source. Failure to credit the
source is plagiarism, even if your use is not copyright
infringement under the provisions of fair use.
How can I stop someone who is not related from publishing info
on my family?
I am always surprised when someone asks this
question. If blood
a requirement for publication, none of us could
include collateral lines in our trees (e.g. your uncle's wife and ancestors)
biographers and historians such as Jeff Shaara, Stephen
and David McCullough would have to find another line of work.
Anyone can research any person or family in which they are interested
and publish their findings.
I have published old family photos on my website and placed a copyright
on them. How do I prevent visitors from copying them? There are two separate issues in this question.
- Physical possession of an object does not convey copyright to
the owner of the object. Copyright of photos, old or recent, vests
original photographer -- the one who created
old photos (carte-de-vistes, cabinet cards, and even
tintypes) taken before January 1, 1923 may well be in the public
domain, but if they are not, then your publication of the photos
is infringement unless the use is fair. Digital copies
(scans) of your old family photos are not original
works eligible for copyright protection. [Bridgeman]
- Everything on your web pages, including photos and
graphics, must be
visitor's hard drive (temporary internet files) in order for
his browser to
page. A couple of key strokes is all that is needed to transfer those
permanent location on his hard drive. If your visitor can't find
the cached files, he can usually do a screen capture and save that.
but that is an inconvenience, not a preventative measure. The only sure way to prevent copying is to not upload them. If you
want to indicate the copy is owned
by you, place a watermark (not a
notice) on the copy you upload to the web.
Websites and Articles:
Copyright Office-Copyright Basics (Circular 1)
Asked Questions about Copyright, U.S. Copyright Office
Fundamentals for Genealogy, by Mike Goad
Owns Genealogy? Cousins and Copyright by Gary B. Hoffman
Genealogical Information by Steve Paul Johnson
Rustling Rampant on the Internet Range, by Dahlia Wyllarde
is the Public Domain by Lloyd J. Jassin
Works Pass Into the Public Domain
Copyright and the old family photo, by Judy G. Russell
U.S. Code and Court Decisons:
Law of the United States of America, Title 17 USC
Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
Feist Publications v. Rural
Harper & Row v.
Internet Services Copyright Policy
|COPYRIGHT & PRIVACY ISSUES