Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Copyright or Not?

This morning's EOGN talked about copyrighting your work so that others could not use it without your permission. Well, there is, as you can imagine, a huge debate on this subject. After all, information such as birth, death, marriage, military, etc. are considered public domain! Right? So how could you copyright it?

Well, it is my understanding that you can't copyright that information. But what you CAN copyright is your research and notes! Your thoughts, suggestions, theories and hypothesis that go into most of our research should be, and can be, protected by copyright.

How many of us have seen our own, hard-worked, family trees posted and published somewhere online by someone who did nothing more than copy it, download our gedcom's and say it is their own research?

Most of us, unfortunately, have seen this happen to us.

But you CAN place a copyright on those things.

One way is to place a copyright in your sources information of family tree program. Under the name for each individual you place in your tree, you can then put that copyright notice. This is not a complicated copyright, but a simple "Implied Copyright". This protects your work. You can also add this into your notes for each individual, which are often not read by some of the people who attempt to use your research as their own.

I responded to today's EOGN blog post by Dick Eastman, and had an interested reader send me the following question:

Hi Cyndi:

Appreciate your post on the Eastman blog regarding keeping control of one’s genealogical research/notes/etc.

Does one have to go through a formal copyright application process for a “body of work”, using attorneys, or is there an easier process?? It seems that if it is a formal process, doing new copyrights each time there is significant updates/changes would be prohibitive.

Any further thoughts on your experience would be greatly appreciated!

[Name Hidden]

My response to this reader was the following:

Having published several genealogy books, I can tell you that there are several kinds of copyrights. While I am not an expert, nor a legal advisor, by any means, I have learned that unless you are publishing in a printed form for mass distribution, you are probably going to be covered with just an "Implied Copyright". This is extremely simple to do.

Make sure that you list your copyright in your first page [in a family tree program you can add this to your "Sources"]. Simply add "Copyright" and under the information you can put something to the effect of: "Copyright 2008 Jane Doe" [be sure to add the copyright symbol if the program allows for it. Under comments or notes for the source, you can add: "All Rights Reserved. No part of this research, including individual notes, theories or hypothesis may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information or permission please address Jane Doe at: "

This implies that anyone else using your family tree information is breaking the copyright. By adding this to your Sources, you need only list it once for each individual you place in your tree.

The "hidden" copyright I mentioned in my EOGN comment, is simply taking the above statement, and placing at the end of the notes for each individual. [I actually have it saved to my hard drive, and then just copy and paste it whenever I am making notes on an individual. If I find I have quite lengthy notes, I will place a break in the middle of the notes and add it both there and at the end.

If you are writing a genealogy report, place this on the back of your cover sheet. You can also place it at the top of Endnotes, or Bibliography, or Sources [whichever you use.]

Yes, it is a little time consuming at first, and can take a little while to get used to doing if you have been researching genealogy for a while. But, believe me, it is worth it in the long run! When I first started out almost 14 years ago, I saw my tree being posted in dozens of areas. Even a book was made, using MY notes! The author getting the accolades for MY work! Today, I never see any of my information out there, unless it's from someone whom I've given permission to quote me. And then only if credit is given to ME for the work! So far, this method has worked well for me.

I hope this has helped somewhat!


I hope that this will be beneficial to our readers here, as well!

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