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The City and County of Washington Pennsylvania
Washington County Pennsylvania History and Families
Genealogy 101 - Copyright vs. Credit Due
Copyright and giving credit where due go hand
in hand in doing genealogy research, with practical and ethical reasons for
I've been reading articles on the web about copyright issues in
genealogy, namely the following:
All of the above articles point out that facts
themselves are not copyrightable. At http://members.aol.com/ntgen/otherstuff/copyright.html
__Why Copyright Has Little Significance to Genealogical Works__by Norris
Taylor, Jr., he writes:
" 'To quote the Supreme Court:
'This Court has long recognized that the fact/expression dichotomy
limits severely the scope of protection in fact-based works. More
than a century ago, the Court observed: "The very object of
publishing a book on science or the useful arts is to communicate
to the world the useful knowledge which it contains. But this
object would be frustrated if the knowledge could not be used
without incurring the guilt of piracy of the book." Baker v.
Selden, 101 U.S. 99, 103 (1880). We reiterated this point in
Harper & Row....' ""
The one issue barely addressed in these articles is the
aspect of plagarism/ giving credit where due. In the article _Copyright
Fundamentals for Genealogy__by Mike Goad at http://www.pddoc.com/copyright/genealogy_copyright_fundamentals.htm
he writes:: "Plagiarism and copyright are not the same. Plagiarism
is the failure to properly document the source of the information or
material that you use and is considered by many to be unethical."
If I post a death date (a fact) you didn't know for a
person, the fact is not copyright protected. However, in ethical
realms, you should give credit to the person who gave you the
info. Back in high school many students had trouble with the
concept of "crediting sources" and "plagiarism." The
definition of plagiarizing is: "to steal and pass off (the ideas or
words of another) as one's own : use (another's production)
without crediting the source." While facts and dates are not
the ideas or words of someone else, there remains the ethical
standpoint that "credit" should still be given to the person
who gave you the information.
While "sweat of the brow" (the act of labor to
discover records etc) to create a genealogy is not protected by
copyright laws, it IS an ethical issue in genealogy. Ethics
defined is : 2a. a set of moral principles or values b : a theory
or system of moral values <the present-day materialistic ethic c :
plural but singular or plural in construction : the principles of
conduct governing an individual or a group <professional
ethics> d : a guiding philosophy and, 1a. the discipline
dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.
In very basic terms, ethics can be viewed as: 1. who
helped you as you climbed your genealogical tree, versus the no
ethics stance of 2. who helped me with this, but I decided that
their help was less important than
the dates they gave me? ;-)
Genealogy is oftentimes SO very dependent on networking
and developing relationships (with immediate or distant family;
with strangers; with workers at courthouses, libraries or genie
societies. Probably more than 50% of facts that each of us have on our
families came from someone else TELLING us or giving us the fact/date,
even if it was a relative supplying those facts. The other 5 0% of our
facts might come from original records and record books, original
records that OTHERS found and shared with us, books written by authors
(vs. original records), and transcribers who found records who took
their time to type the records and make them available in books, CDs, or
online. Since few of us actually live in the city where our ancestors
lived, nor travel to do research, the majority of help comes from other
people, hence the reason we subscribe to Lists and visit message boards.
ALL the persons who contributed facts to your tree should be credited as
MORE important than ethical or moral grounds, the
highest genealogical groups (such as the Board of Certified
Genealogists), and the biggest experts in genealogy write that sources
should **always** be given. This is due to two (non-ethical) reasons:
1. Without a source, it appears you had (knew) a date or
had record or source that/who told you the information (it can be
assumed you were not born knowing this fact, so someone or
something had to inform you). Future generations will be looking
to prove--or disprove-- any and all facts you present, especially
when your source is not stated. Where will other searchers look if
you give no source? Even if you say "grandma Emma Brown's personal
knowledge" this gives other searchers a starting point of
what sources to check. Maybe grandma Brown, or Aunt Ellie White is
deceased, but knowing where you got the info will help other
researchers know where to start to prove or disprove your info.
Maybe they will start checking records to verify "Grandma Emma
Brown" and her recollections.
2. ALL genealogical experts state that any written
genealogy (including what is in a genealogy program) should be able to be followed
by any other person. This means anyone should be able to look at
your file and follow your sources: Okay, Anna's birth info is
located in Record Book 1, page 83. Her marriage date is in a
Bible--who had/has the Bible now? (which I might not find in 50
years unless you included a Xerox copy or image). Anna got
re-married -- her mother gave the date because she was present at the
marriage; is there any record in the public that supports this
fact? Anna's death date is listed from Death Book titled BDB-123,
in Caliber Co., Texas Courthouse so I should be able to locate that
record too. Now, how did this writer decide which John was the
right John who married Anna first? How did they draw that conclusion? All
this should be documented.
3. A third non-ethical reason is that, generally,
non-sourced books and files are viewed as "suspect."
"Where did he get his info?" we ask. It is for this
reason that "transcribed" records are usually taken at face
value and with trust: The transcriber states "X Cemetery
Census" and we know we can go check that cemetery for
ourselves if the need arises. Imagine though if a transcriber does
not state WHAT he is transcribing! We would be posting "Hey,
what cemetery is this for?" "Where did you find this marriage
list?" "Are you reading from a book or did you have/see
the original source?"
If we are SO worried about non-sourced information and
would never just accept a non-sourced list of names, dates etc.,
WHY would we not also choose to source the files/books we create
for our family tree??? If one person gives me a name, one date,
the source's name should appear in MY work.
I know the copyright issue is a big one, and everyone
has their own opinion. It is likely the topic of sourcing and
giving credit will also bring different opinions. My hope by
writing this is that more people will consider genealogy more than
collecting names and facts and acknowledge those who have helped
them. Often this can be given in a short statement at the
beginning, or end of your file (if 1 person helped a lot) "I'd like
to thank Margaret Wheeler for the dates on the Wheeler
family." Or, ideally, you could separately list a person's
name after each fact to show where you got it.
There is more to genealogy than just facts.