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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 including both.

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Copyright vs. Credit Due
by Judith Florian


I've been reading articles on the web about copyright issues in genealogy, namely the following: 
http://www.librarycopyright.net/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=111
and
http://www.pddoc.com/copyright/genealogy_copyright_fundamentals.htm
and
http://members.aol.com/ntgen/otherstuff/copyright.html

 

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 a source.

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.

 

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Genealogy 101-New to Research? - First page of 4

 

Next Pages

 Genealogy 101-New to Research?

Genealogy 101 - Cite Your Sources!

Genealogy 101-Copyright vs. Credit Due

Genealogy 101 - Use of Newspapers in Genealogy Research

Genealogy 101 - "Letters Left in the Post Office" Newspaper Lists

Genealogy 101_Why We do It

Genealogy 101 - HOW FAR IS TOO FAR IN GENEALOGY? (How many people make a family? How many families make genealogy?)

Genealogy 101 - Marriage Traditions or Trends - In Washington County PA between 1880s and 1940s or so

Genealogy 101 - Where to Research in Washington County PA!

Genealogy 101 - TIPS TO TRANSCRIBING CEMETERIES OR ANY RECORDS

 

 

 

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All newspaper items posted with permission of the Observer-Reporter Oct. 13, 2005.

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(c) Judith Ann Florian
Copyright Notice - Data / info. for individuals and surnames may be reproduced for personal family histories only, but not for any commercial use or sale. Please give credit to Judith Florian and Catherine L. Caldwell for locating newspaper items and original documents. You may use J. Florian's research conclusions if credit is given. No other data or images may be reproduced without permission. August 2005-present, Judith Florian, Copyright All rights reserved.

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