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Copyright Information

Looking for help--or do you have a few questions? This section will tell you where you can send an email, add your comments to the Queries, view the comments left by other visitors relating to the specific records at this website (see My Notes), fill out a form to help Rate this Site, etc.

1. What is meant by a copyright?
2. Is everything copyrighted?
3. What if I give credit to someone's work?
4. Staying out of trouble

1. What is meant by a copyright?
A musician composes a concerto: it's copyrighted. An artist paints a portrait: that's property. A writer tells a story: it still belongs to the storyteller. A genealogist lists websites, presents a historical account of a family, draws up family trees, and publishes it on the web: it is copyrighted.

It is confusing, everyone can agree, this issue of copyright. For one, I get frustrated when I don't remember where I got my information--say an account of a family, a passage from a letter, a map, etc. Eventually--or at least over 20 years of research--it became an administrative burden--documenting references, providing comprehensive citations and keeping the copyright dogs at bay. So early on, I decided to keep a record of everything I ever wrote and received, all catalogued and cross-referenced--and it has paid off in the end, especially as sources came into question at a later date. But keeping records is a bit different from copyright. A copyright is the assertion of an author's ownership of work--an acknowledgement of a person's right to say, "I wrote that. Don't go off and copy it and say its yours!" The minute a web page is published, it becomes a copyrighted piece of property.

Everything at this website is therefore copyrighted. I have given credit, in as many areas as possible, to the authors or owners of any materials which have been reproduced as part of the content. All of the web design is my own work--from the graphics to the hypertext markup language behind each page.

2. Is everything copyrighted?
Copyright law is infinitely more complex than a few paragraphs, but boiled down, here's my interpretation: Yes and No

  • The Tower of Pisa: No. The architectural blueprints for the tower aren't either. But my silly photographs of the tower, complete with people standing in front so as to appear to be holding up the building. . . Yes, that is copyrighted.
  • Lists of passengers on a ship manifest from 1821 or 1995: No. A description of the characters, from a novel, who boarded the Mayflower: Yes. A painting of the ship is also intellectual property. . . artwork. . . owned by somebody.
  • Letters that I wrote to my grandmother: Yes, that's copyrighted. Letters to the Editor: Yes--published with permission by the newspaper. A letter I downloaded from a website? Probably (99% likely).
  • My Java Applet: Yes. My flipping shamrock graphic: Yes. My thoughts on Copyright? Yup. An unpublished rap version of 'The Copyright Wrap-up?' Believe it: Yes.
  • Clippings from a Newsgroup discussion? Yes.
  • Photographs from a book published in 1880? Maybe.
  • 1000 words in a row, taken from a dictionary? Yes, if they comprise sentences or thoughts or logic. And what about a list of cooking terms? No. Nobody can own sauté or flambée, but someone can own the recipe for chocolate mousse à la mode.
  • Flagrant, obvious chops from a website, extensive passages from a historical account, anything that is published in an organized fashion on web page or in a book or in a song. . . Someone owns that. It is their property.
3. What if I give credit to someone's work?
So what, you gave credit to someone: it may be polite, but be careful of the legal beagles. It is important to name your source for information, that way, others can verify your references--or seek additional information from the sources you list. However, this does not excuse you from infringing on copyrights.

4. Staying out of trouble
Things will get stinky if you claim ownership of someone else's property. For example, someone who copies another's work--say an author who copies a chapter from an epic novel--or has stolen someone's property. If that person collects royalties, commissions or payment or even recognition for the stolen property. . . Well, that will land him a weekend in Sing-Sing or worse. Giving credit to someone does not copyright absolution make. What may be worse is the fallout: singers spend years recovering from voice-overs, writers are characterized as cheaters when they snip and save. Generally, the three sisters of the crafter are hit hard: credibility, creativity and integrity.

So if you want to copy someone's work, ask first. Then publish. Explain that your work will be published in a book or in a magazine. Be sure to tell everyone that you have reproduced the work with the author's permission. If someone wants to pay you for your work, make sure that the owners of any copyrighted work you have included are notified, and be sure that written permission to publish this work is granted by the said owners. Failure to do so could easily land you in hot water. If you copy large parts of someone's work in book that you plan to publish, get a signed agreement to pay that same someone for the work.

A re-cap: Get permission. . . in writing. State the source. Send the cheque.

The above information is meant to assist the reader in understanding the nature of copyright law from the point of view of the author, artist and genealogist and is not intended as a legal opinion. It is recommended that you seek legal counsel for current case law, intellectual property guidelines set out by country or other legal assistance prior to making the mistake of copyright infringement.

Copyright 1995-2001 Michael S. Cullinan
Generated:  2001-Jan-26 03:42:11