Copyright and Cemetery Project

+12 votes
I need to confirm if a photographer of a gravestone posts their photo to WikiTree's cemetery project then the photographer still retains their copyright to that photograph.

Thank you and sincerely,
in The Tree House by Peter Roberts G2G6 Pilot (613k points)

Section 5 of WikiTree's Terms of Service would indicate that the photographer retains copyright to any photos that he/she adds/allows to be added to WikiTree.

WikiTree is given a license to use the photos. The terms do not mention any copyright transfer.

You retain the copyright according to everything I've read on the topic.

This is what I put in the "source" field for all of my gravestone photos that I upload to WikiTree profiles:

Photograph Copyright © 2020 [[Svihra-6|Anne Svihra]]. All Rights Reserved.

And here's an example of how it ends up displaying on a photo page:

The "source" field just displays as the first comment below the photo on the photo's page. It is more prominent to visitors of the photo page who are not logged in to WikiTree, such as someone who landed on WikiTree from a Google search result and has clicked through to that page looking for a higher quality image to download. For those of us that are logged in to WikiTree, it sort of blends in with the editing fields that display in that same area below the photo. 

What I paste into the source field is not necessary to retain the copyright. I just put it there to hopefully help deter people from uploading it to other websites.

Why is this flagged?
I’m not sure why it was flagged.  I unflagged it.

7 Answers

+8 votes
Interesting question.  Because I donated for use a bunch of photos to one of the Original "state" projects back when it first started and there wasn't a cemetery project. Another person who was just starting with myself and the person who started the "state" project, put us together (because i was really new to wktr).  anyway, I sent a bunch must've been close to 100+ pics from 3 cemeteries I walked just a month or so earlier (on a trip).  Now the project has changed hands multiple times, and all my photos have had every acknowledgment of my credit for each pic.. removed. and either some bogus source to the profile itself listed as the source or even changed to fndagrv photos which they were not.  I gave up trying to get the project to at least acknowledge the hard work of the person who loaded all of them into the cemeteries that she created for the project area, and for my pics.  If I had known that my cpyrghts or in the very least my "credit as photographer" would just disappear... I wouldn't have sent the pics in, no matter how much they helped.  wikitree is free for everyone...donating use of photos should be acceptable but blowing off who "gave the use"...not right.  just sayin.   I sent in other pics to other projects, and they made sure to attach credits to each pic...that was all I asked.  thats not much.  no different than a researcher receiving credit for sources they locate. words or pics shouldn't make a difference.. but I guess on the internet it does.  So to your question.. sorry.. I don't know..but from what happened to me.. I'd say they should.. but its a free for all website.. sooo the whole.. in the public domain may apply thereby nulling a copyright but not sure
by Arora Anonymous G2G6 Pilot (125k points)
That’s outrageous!  I’d be very disturbed if that happened to me. I use a watermark on my photos. But I’d be tempted to add my name as a comment on all my misatributted photos. Plus take it to the higher levels of leadership.

Hi Arora,

As a Co-Leader of GCP, this is not something we would ever encourage or condone. Can you please point me to a few of the photos that "have had every acknowledgment of my credit for each pic.. removed?"

Acknowledgements are typically handled on the photo page itself (when uploaded) and these should not be able to be changed anyone but the original poster.


Edited to ask:

 I gave up trying to get the project to at least acknowledge the hard work of the person who loaded all of them into the cemeteries that she created for the project area, and for my pics.

Who did you contact about this. As a Co-Leader of Global Cemeteries, I can say that I have never been contacted or made aware of this issue. Not to mention, that removing attribution would be in violation of our Honor Code and not at all in the spirit of WikiTree.

Feel free to message me privately if you would like.

thank you Steve, I just sent you a private messg. so far in emails I've found 85 photos that were supposed to have been loaded to 2 possibly 3 cemeteries, I sent you 2 profiles involved, and on one of these there are multiple photos of mine involved.
+6 votes

Simple answer, probably but there are some reasons you might not.  I have taken thousands of Cemetery/Tombstone photos and this is what I've always lived by...

1. In the US, as soon as you take a photograph, you automatically have the copyright of the image (if it's not taking a photo, for example, of a Monet, etc).

2.  You can register your photo/s with the US Copyright Office but that becomes cumbersome.  If you don't register, I believe after 3 months, you can only be awarded actual damages if you sue. Hard to prove actual damages in court.

3.  To legally use a photo there are three categories:  

* Paid Licensing:  you grant the use for a fair fee depending on usage.  Ex. Website vs National Ad on TV.

* Fair Use: You allow the image to be used on 3 conditions: Non-Profit and Education Use, If the image has changed drastically that it no longer has the same meaning/purpose and third, if the image is used, informatively for the public good.

* Creative Commons which is similar to licensing but the photographer only releases the image under very limited circumstances.  A lawyer and contract is definitely needed for this type of usage.

* Public Domain which is tricky because most people assume that everything is public domain if it's on the internet.  Not true.  This is really for works that have expired.  Ex:  Shakespeare.

I would think that your question's answer would fall under Fair Use where you still own the copyright and most of the abuse of your image would fall under Public Domain.

I require all my Cemetery photos to have a link back to my company's name.  It probably only happens about 2% of the time.  I usually find most of them on Ancestry and Family Search.


by Sandy Patak G2G6 Mach 6 (64.3k points)
You can "watermark" images by simply placing semi-transparent text or other markers across the image in such a way it doesn't detract from the actual image.  It won't deter all image users ("borrowers"), but it might help.
Melanie -

Thanks for pointing that out!  Very True and the best way to at least let others know who took the photograph.  I use to do that but have gotten a bit lazy after the first thousand or so photos.   

I have even put on my Company's website that although I own the photograph, to me, it seems silly to own the photograph of someone's grave site and all I ask is a link back or attribute.  Something so simple but seems to be so hard to accomplish.   


I have nowhere near 1000 photographs!  surprise  (I  think my daughter-in-law does, although hers are not of cemeteries.)

I only thought of it because I have uploaded a couple of photographs to find a grave (after succumbing and creating an account so I didn't have to keep asking other people to submit corrections for me), and wanted them marked as they are family owned and usage freely granted to me.  As I said, it won't stop everyone from "borrowing" the usage of them to stick on their 100-times-duplicated ancestry tree, but it may give some pause before they do. 

I forgot to mention something in my original post but this seems like a great place to put it....

The lack of a Copyright Symbol or notice (usually found at the bottom of blog/websites) or watermark does not indicate that the photo is free to use.  If a photo does have a Copyright Symbol or notice or watermark, guess what, it is still not free to use.  Direct and express permission, by the creator, is still needed to use the photo.

So, in your case, you did those Ancestry Duplicated Trees a big favor by marking the photo and giving expressed permission. :)


HAH! I didn't transfer the permission.  I simply marked the images as family owned with no mention of permission for reuse.  Images I create for use on Wikitree are not free to reuse elsewhere.

An option if photography or digital artwork is important to you--whether vocation or avocation--is a company called Digimarc. You can read about the specific image identification services here:

There is a webcrawling service which will positively identify a watermarked (they call it barcoding) image--locally or on public webspace--even if the original image has been altered (some alterations will obscure the mark, but that extent of modification would also likely render the image useless).

There's also an available Photoshop plugin that allows you to easily mark images from within the app: just a click, set a few parameters (name and company and the like are sticky), and away you go. I used to use it, but have had little requirement the past couple of years. Makes powerful evidence if it comes to a cease and desist letter: you can include the webcrawl report showing the positive digital identification of your watermarked, under-copyright image.

Thanks for bringing Digimarc up, Edison. I have used it for scans of artwork after having had some reproduced and put up for sale on a couple of websites.
+5 votes
I take a lot of cemetery photos. I always state “I give permission to to publish this photo on their website”. Since I adopted a cemetery, I also look for pics that were copied from FindAGrave and try to replace them with a current photo so that any copyright issues for wikitree disappear. Obviously, you can control everyone but I try to correct where it looks wrong.
by Gurney Thompson G2G6 Pilot (306k points)
+4 votes

As others have said but in different ways, you always retain the copyright unless you actively rescind it and that requires a public notice such as one of the Creative Commons attributions. There may be some cases where a website or organization will require you to give up your copyright as part of donating to a collection but that will be made very clear.

by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (462k points)
+2 votes
I find it rather silly to expect a copyright of a picture of a gravestone. There is absolutely nothing that can stop a person from taking a picture of a gravestone. They are all taken the same way, head on . There isn't anything that makes them special.
by Rod Hone G2G Rookie (260 points)

Let's say you take a picture of a lion walking the streets of a city and post that online for others to see. Someone uses it on the cover of a famous magazine (or an online blog, newspaper, etc.) without attributing you. There was nothing stopping anyone else from taking the picture of the lion either - does that mean you should be denied all acknowledgement and royalties? No!

They are all taken the same way, head on . There isn't anything that makes them special.

This is 100% incorrect. Photography is an art. Many people will point-and-shoot, sure - but to say that is the standard is absurd. You will find many a gravestone images that are retouched for lighting, or may have special exposures or filters applied in order to read the inscriptions.

Just because anyone can take the picture does not mean the images are not copy-written because they are "all the same" is exactly why copyright laws exist.

@Rod Hone, I beg to differ here.  I've walked numerous cemeteries and have taken thousands of pics and some days, rain, overcast skies, shadows, ages, algae, dark blackened growths  on the stones can all affect the outcome of the photos taken.  thus, straight on maybe the worst shot a person can take...because the words, numbers, details may not be viewable.  Also.. I don't take one shot, I may spend 5, 10, 15 shots even 20 trying to get all the details, including taking just sectional shots, zoomed in on details that otherwise can't be seen in a single photo.  Therefore.. not all photos are the same.. not of tombstones, graves, or anything else for that matter.  Spending 10 hours in a graveyard for only 40 pics, each pic has taken more than just a min or 2 to take.. just sayin

As for watermarks, I know about them, I've gone to hiding my signature & date within the photos now, as I don't have the programs mentioned here. computer crash .. haven't replaced programs. & after reading fine print on online photo sites for "changing pics, adding watermarks etc".. will not use online sites.  After seeing the gallery opening of the so called "artist in NY" that gathered ppls selfies from fb and called it a collection, without ppls consents & he won in court.. I don't post my photos online any longer. Only wanted to help a cemetery project as I see genealogy as important to the future generations.  But I also think that my descendants should be able to know when they do see something i created online, ie: photos of tombstones/cemeteries/ wildlife, ppl, things, etc or paintings etc they should be able to see it was me, and hopefully smile that they found something that was part of their Ancestor /gr.parent/gt.aunt etc life & smile over the finding of it.  providing the name of the provider is reasonable, its not about ego, its about "source"

(edited to correct typos)
+9 votes

There is quite a bit of information here, but I want to summarize a few of the comments in one place to hopefully give you all of the information you are looking for:

  1. When you take a photo and upload it to WikiTree, regardless of the subject matter of the image, or affiliated project, you retain the copyright to that photo unless you explicitly dedicate the image to the Public Domain (in writing) when you upload the photograph to WikiTree.
  2. When you upload a photo to WikiTree, again regardless of the subject matter of the image, or affiliated project, you grant WikiTree a license to use that image (display it on profiles, possibly for use in advertising, etc.). This is typical of any site. You are not transferring the ownership or copyright.
  3. Global Cemeteries requests that all gravestone images added to WikiTree are attributed appropriately, such as:

    Monumental inscription. Country. Cemetery name, place name. Monument death date as inscribed. (b. date as inscribed) LAST NAME inscribed, given name. GPS: DATA HERE. Photographed by: [[Wiki-ID|Name]]: date photo taken.
  4. In addition to image attribution as noted above, you are more than welcome to provide a caption on images when used on pages, such as:

    {{Image|file=FileName.jpg|caption=Image courtesy of [[Wiki-ID|Name]]: date photo taken.}}
by Steven Harris G2G6 Pilot (587k points)
+6 votes
Taking pics for Wikitree was a hobby for us, before Covid. It took us to lots of places we'd never been to before. It was fun. Took the pics and uploaded them. No cost above the cost of another great day out. Really don't care what happens next. An author did once get in touch asking permission to reuse which was nice, but really we'd already had the benefit from taking them.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (294k points)
C. Mackinnon, I agree on what you just said, I too love going out, walking the cemeteries & reading the stones. It makes for a wonderfully peaceful day out..(unless the weather inhibits it).  But unlike you loading them which puts you right onto the photos "provider section/uploaded info sec", I sent thru emails 85 photos to someone else who loaded them all for me because I was very new and didn't understand how to do any of what was involved with the photo uploads, free space pages, sub-projects, projects, etc.. so my id didn't automatically go on the uploaded photos, the person who uploaded got that credit (which of course was fine by me).. but they had place a "comment under the photos expressly giving credit linked to me for the providing of the photos as the photographer".. this info is gone, and the uploads now are linked even to 1800s profiles as the provider of the photo in some cases. (the person who uploaded, appears to have left wt- I don't know when, but couldn't find her profile today) so this maybe part of the "whole deletion of the original infos attached to the photos original information about the uploads.. & maybe even why even her commented credit to me on photos is also gone.  Something I'm just realizing today after searching for the original uploaders' profile.

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