THE INTERNET, GENEALOGY, AND COPYRIGHT
Copyright 2008 by Sara Binkley Tarpley

Did you know that when you post something on the Internet, it is as if you had published it in a newspaper, magazine, or book? For that reason, copyright law applies to the Internet just as it does to works published in print.

You may have noticed that this Web site, like many others, bears a copyright notice. That means that you cannot copy the entire site. You may also have noticed that certain portions of the site, primarily biographies of ancestors and other articles, bear a copyright notice. These are my original work, and legally I have complete control over where they appear.

Other portions of the site do not show a copyright notice. These include my database and transcriptions of records. These items are not original. They are compilations of facts or transcriptions of public records that everyone has access to. By law, they cannot be copyrighted. Indeed, no facts can be copyrighted. If they could, then few or none of us would be able to do genealogical research: all the facts would have been "taken." And even though my original essays are copyrighted, the facts within them are not. You are free to take information from them; you are not free to borrow language from them except for very small portions that you may quote.

Although facts cannot be copyrighted, it is only good etiquette and good research practice to show where you found them. So, if you find some new information in my database or in my essays, I would appreciate your showing me as the source.

Not every piece of original work on the Internet shows a copyright. Does that mean that you are free to copy those that do not? No, in general works made under current copyright law were copyrighted the moment the author put them on paper or on a computer. However, copyright law is very complicated; and I am most certainly not an expert. There are many online sources for information about copyright law. Here are a couple that I have found useful:

Rootsweb's copyright mailing list
"Copyright Fundamentals for Genealogists." by Mike Goad

What will happen to you if you copy someone's original work? It depends upon the nature of the work and where and how you copy it. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe you will get a letter from the author asking you to remove it. Maybe you will get reported to your ISP or your Web host or MyFamily.com, the parent company of Ancestry, Rootsweb, and Genealogy.com. If the work is important enough and profitable enough to its author, you might even get sued for copyright infringement. In any case, the right thing to do is not to copy; and when it doubt, ask for permission.

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