I seem to have acquired a volunteer net-nanny . . . [closed]

+10 votes
Some number of months ago, a WikiTree member accused me of copyright violations because the member believed that my posting of images of Québec parish diary pages violated Ancestry.com's copyright on those images.

I replied in a comment on each such page that I believed that Ancestry.com's terms of use allowed for what I was doing since I was only posting a (very small) portion of their collection.

Some number of months went by without any more action and then this same WikiTree member repeated his accusations on a handful of my WikiTree image pages.

My recollection is that I just ignored him this time around although I am not 100% sure.

Today, he has been posting a rather long explanation of why he believes that I am violating Ancestry.com's terms of use on a long list of my WikiTree pages (when I first noticed what he was up to, he had posted said long explanation on 21 of my image pages; as of the time I am typing this, he has posted (I assume) the same long explanation on a total of 28 of my image pages).

I do not believe that I am violating Ancestry.com's terms of use for a couple of reasons including that I am only posting a very modest portion of their collection and, with respect to his argument in today's postings by him, I believe that he is drawing a false distinction between the pages of the parish diaries and images of the pages of the parish diaries.

How do I bring this dispute to an end?
closed with the note: The discussion seems to have run its course.
in Policy and Style by Daniel Boulet G2G2 (2.7k points)
closed by Daniel Boulet
A solution would be to send links to the profiles with the images in question to  Ancestry.com and ask if it is permissible to use the images.
Looking at my old email, I see that the person in question complained about three of my images back in April. All of the three images that they complained about no longer exist on the WikiTree site. At least one of them disappeared after he edited a profile that referenced the image (it is my recollection that images go away when they are no longer being referenced).

It would seem that my net-nanny has given themselves a promotion to judge and executioner.
Images attached to a profile, or profiles, go away when there are no longer any attachments to the image.
Patricia, I think you made a great suggestion. I've read over Ancestry.com's "Terms and Conditions" a few times today (and many times during my 25-years I've been a subscriber) and it is not totally clear to me whether the republishing of an image downloaded from Ancestry.com on a competitor website (even a free, not-for-profit one) would or would not constitute a violation of their terms of use.
As to written material that is under copyright.

I know, from being an English major in college, that it is entirely acceptable to quote copyrighted materialms so long as the footnotes give.credit to the author(s) and list the pub!usher etc. That would seem to include images and screen shots. Wikitree would appear  to be a scholarly publication of the results of scholarly inestigation. That is why sources are required.

As to.the US Census and other government documents: these were paid for by the American people and belong to the American people. Ancestry.com Operations can copyright the bejeebers out of them and make all sorts of rules terms and conditions but that does not change the basic fact: these documents belong to any American citizen, who retain the right to use these records! Period. Any person of any nationality is free to access The National Archives ( <https:www.nara.gov/> ) and may access records for free. It is a bit of a conceit on the part of Ancestry.com Operations to purport that they can copyright the documents they have been allowed to use by the National Archives.

5 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

I agree entirely with what SJ Baty wrote about Ancestry’s terms and conditions.  However, regarding the original questioner’s problem, it matters not.  Ancestry.com T&Cs are between Ancestry.com and its users.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with Wikitree, and Wikitree’s users have no responsibility nor authority to enforce those T&Cs.  Wikitree’s honor code requires a respect for copyrights.  It does not require its users to follow other websites’ policies.  As long as the document is in the public domain, it can be posted to Wikitree regardless of its derivation.  By definition, a public domain document can be used by anyone for any purpose.

by Kerry Larson G2G6 Pilot (240k points)
selected by Daniel Boulet

I do not think it is as simple as that, Kerry. Members of WikiTree have agreed to abide by WikiTree terms and conditions, which are at https://www.wikitree.com/about/terms.html. They include agreeing to follow the acceptable use policy at https://www.wikitree.com/about/acceptable-use.html. Both of these pages have some relevant provisions which include the right of WikiTree users, and of Interesting.com who provide the WikiTree site, to edit and remove content. It is not just the honor code that is relevant.

In addition some scans have been enhanced, modified or cleaned up by websites that host them. That gives rise to extra legal rights, even if the work scanned is public domain.

And WikiTree has additionally given added guidance on when it is permissible to use images, at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Photos_FAQ#How_do_you_know_if_you_have_permission_to_upload_a_photo.3F. And, on public domain content generally, at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Copying_Text#Even_public_domain_content_may_be_unlawful_to_copy.

I leave ethical considerations on one side, though I would hope that all WikiTree members would behave ethically: breaching the terms and conditions of another website seems to me unethical, irrespective of the legal position.

All this discussion prompted me to search 'public domain' . 

Yes Wikipedia has a long entry, but this site, Stanford University Libraries was very interesting and top of the search results


I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but in the U.S., enhancing a public domain image does not garner copyright protection for the enhanced image.  A fundamental precept for copyright protection is that there must be originality or creativity by a human.  Some believe that the amount of work by Ancestry in scanning the public domain images should make them copyright eligible.  The Supreme Court ruled on the so-called “sweat of the brow” doctrine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_the_United_States#Compilations_of_facts_and_the_sweat_of_the_brow_doctrine) and found that creativity, not hard work, was requisite for copyright protection.  Furthermore, machine generated images are not eligible for protection as stated in Section 313.2 of copyright law, “the Office will not register works produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author” (emphasis added).  I'm pretty sure that no one believes that Ancestry.com has a backroom of sweatshop workers enhancing images by hand.  Perhaps more importantly than these technical arguments is that Ancestry.com has made no claim to copyright on this basis (or any basis at all).

If a Wikitree user obtains a public domain image from Ancestry.com and believes it is lawful and ethical for them to post the image on Wikitree, it’s not up to another Wikitree user to say, “No you can’t.  You must follow my interpretation of what is allowed by Ancestry.”

I'm pretty sure that no one believes that Ancestry.com has a backroom of sweatshop workers enhancing images by hand.  "

I do not believe for one minute that Ancestry actually re-scanned the original records at all. 

When I look at the images of e.g. Censuses on Ancestry they are no different in quality to the same records on Library and Archives Canada, or on Find My Past or other sites. My best guess is that all they did was to obtain permission to use the images that had already been done by others. 

Given how incredibly difficult it is to obtain permission to look at original records stored in archives in many institutions and the rules put in place by those institutions for handling the originals, there is no way Ancestry's workers would have been touching them. 

There are differences in transcription sometimes and Ancestry is usually at the bottom of the heap with transcribing accuracy. 

If i look at the source citation on Ancestry for the 1881 census page for my 4 x grt grandfather this is what it says.

Source Citation

Class: RG11; Piece: 2821; Folio: 120; Page: 34; GSU roll: 1341675

Source Information

Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1881 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.

1881 British Isles Census Index provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints © Copyright 1999 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. All use is subject to the limited use license and other terms and conditions applicable to this site. Appreciation is expressed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for providing the 1881 England and Wales Census Index.

Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881.

Images © Crown copyright. Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England.

The National Archives give no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided.

Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to The National Archives Image Library, Kew, Richmond, Surrey

I think the keywords here are research and education. I believe WikiTree is involved in both genealogical research and education.

A discussion of U.K. Crown Copyright here could derail the original question, so I would just point you to an answer I gave a few years ago:  https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/523321/adding-census-images-and-source-data

I'd suggest a new "question" for anyone wanting to discuss further.

+16 votes
You can file a mentor intervention and they can stop him from posting this notice on all the profiles. They might also be able to mediate this problem.

by Esmé van der Westhuizen G2G6 Pilot (152k points)

Daniel, I think Esmé has given you good advice.  On the one hand, I don't think someone should take such an approach to complaining about your practices.  If anything, the person should have filed an MIR, which would have put you in touch with a mentor who could help you evaluate whether your use of images was appropriate.  You may want to file an MIR.

On the other hand, I do wonder where we should "draw the line" on use of Ancestry images.  I agree with you that they allow the use of small excerpts from their records.  I am not so sure that they allow the posting of intact obituaries from newspapers.com (as one example).

Would an alternative be for you to post links to the Ancestry records?  There is a way to do that so that anyone can access the image.  See this thread.  In practice, it is quite easy once you do it once or twice.

I have filed a Mentor Intervention Request regarding this issue.

I am somewhat concerned that the member in question is going to edit profiles to remove references to the images that he objects to (he has already done this to cause the deletion of three images that I know of). The images in dispute are all Québec parish diary pages from Ancestry.com which got them from the Drouin Institute. They all date back to the 1800s or earlier so it is safe to assume that the profiles that reference them are all open to edits by anyone.

To be absolutely clear, I am annoyed by what is going on but I have no plans to do anything 'foolish' that would risk escalating this issue.
The newspaper.com site's terms and conditions (T&Cs) are the Ancestry.com T&Cs - clicking on the "Terms and Conditions" link at the bottom of the newspapers.com main page takes you to the Ancestry.com T&Cs page on the Ancestry.com site.

The difference with obituaries vs parish church records is that sharing the entire newspaper page would look pretty strange/silly if the goal is to share an obituary. On the other hand, I found sharing the entire two-page spread of a parish diary to be quite reasonable because it provides some context (not a lot but some). This is particularly true for a handful of pages that happen to contain the 'announcement' of multiple birth/marriage/death records. There is one page in particular dating from about 1810 that has a surprising number of 'announcements' for life events about my ancestors. It was pretty cool to stumble across it and I like the fact that it sort of unites the various profiles of the people referenced by the page.

I stopped sharing images of parish diary pages about two years ago because the amount of work involved in uploading the page, getting the page to link to the relevant profiles just make creating a reference to a birth/marriage/death event too much of a hassle (it isn't a huge amount of work but it adds enough to cause me to change my practice).

While it is possible that I have posted the occasional image of a parish diary page since I stopped making the practice almost routine (I don't keep track of these things and I have no idea how to find images that I have posted sorted by date of posting), in practical terms, I don't share them anymore.

This just makes the harassment that I am experiencing from my net-nanny that much more annoying. If the WikiTree Gods conclude that I should not be sharing parish diary page images then I will not be the least bit bothered although I will probably ask for some help in chasing down the images that I shared so that I can remove them and clean up the profiles that referenced them.

Hi all, I'd like to recommend that in the future we first recommend to other members that they follow the problem with members page instead of suggesting they file an MIR.  Whenever we have a problem with another member we should always follow the Problem with Members (the link can be found in the top right corner fo the screen under the Help pulldown menu).

Navigating that page we will have suggestions and steps to take to evaluate the situation and to possibly defuse a potential problem.  We are asked to evaluate our own emotions: if we're upset, maybe we should come back later.  We are asked to analyze if the other person has good intentions and if so, to contact them if you feel comfortable doing so.  In some situations we may be able to make subtle corrections withour exaccerbating the situation.  

If none of these other steps work out then we are invited to file an MIR (Mentor Intervention Request).  Lets give the Problem with Members page a chance to work and try to use the MIR only after we have followed all the steps in the problem with members page.

I started at the Problems with Members page.

Question #1: Is this person a spammer or a vandal? No. The person had harassed me with comments on image pages and/or profile pages on, as of yesterday, three separate occasions but they hadn't actually vandalized anything.

Question #2: Has the person violated anyone's privacy? No,

Question #3: Is this an emergency? Clearly, not now and I did not yet know that his actions had caused some of my images to be deleted so I saw nothing that would be hard to fix later (even re-uploading the images won't be hard if I eventually do that).

Question #4: Has this person's behaviour upset me? It had annoyed me but considering the tone of the supporting text in this question section, it had not upset me. If anything, I found it childish and certainly found it annoying.

Question #5: Can I assume that this person has good intentions? Up until yesterday when he posted the same long explanation of why he thought I had done something wrong to 28 different pages, I thought his intentions were good if misguided. Misguided is not bad intentions so, this question does not apply.

Question #6: Yes. I posted a reply comment to each of the comments he posted on about a half dozen or so of my pages one day last year. This reply comment explained why I thought that I was not doing anything wrong. I heard no response of any sort until he posted his long explanation yesterday on 28 of my pages. Yes, I had tried to contact him but he had, until yesterday, not responded.

With his posting of his explanation to 28 pages, the issue had suddenly become more of a concern and I did not feel like chasing this person around the WikiTree site if he continued to post his explanation to other pages as I deleted his explanation from the pages that he had already posted it to.

Bottom line, it wasn't entirely clear what I should do although I concluded that asking for an intervention made sense.

Sidenote: I believe that the Problems with Members page could use some fairly serious editing but that's a bit off-topic.

On to the "Mentor Intervention Request" . . .

I read the page top to bottom. It seemed less than clear but submitting an MIR seemed to be what I needed to do.

I soon ended up on the "Mentor Intervention Request re: ProblemPerson-1234" page. The first field asks for the help, style, or G2G question that explains why what the person had been doing was a problem. I had no idea what precise page/rule/question he had violated and wasn't really sure how to figure it out so I submitted the G2G question that launched this thread. I also decided to just submit a MIR without specifically referencing a relevant help, style or G2G page.

That's how I ended up here.

One last comment (please don't take this as anything more than a gentle observation/suggestion). I'm a software developer by trade. I have seen a LOT of documentation that was written by someone who understood the thing that was being documented so well that they were unable to explain how to use the thing in ways that a broad audience would understand. As I worked my way through the "Problems with Users" page, I felt like I was reading that kind of documentation.

So . . . if there is interest in doing so, I am more than willing to help rework the "Problems with Users" page and the "Mentor Intervention Page".
Daniel you are correct.

The Problems with Members page is the start of the MIR. None of the other options/suggestions on the page would have stopped the member form posting rather long explanations on the profiles in question.
I submitted a MIR about an hour or so after starting this G2G thread. The member had stopped posting his long explanation of his point of view by about the time that I submitted the MIR although this wasn't obvious for a while.

I also submitted a question to Ancestry.com at about the same time asking if posting a modest number of complete images was ok. I haven't received anything from that query.
I don't think anyone has noted that suggested edits to WikiTree pages are always welcome. How about proposing them in a separate G2G discussion post? You're right that suggestions from fresh eyes are valuable.

- Karen, your 7th cousin thrice removed and a software dev. eng. in test :-)

After 3 calls of one hour, 90 minutes, and about 90 minutes, and speaking with 8 Ancestry employees including two supervisors, I finally got a reply (in writing) that states in part:

September 4, 2020

Dear SJ,

Thank you for contacting Ancestry. We appreciate your feedback and are committed to providing you with excellent customer service.   

Any record that has been provided by the National Archives and Records Administration and posted on Ancestry is available for use without written permission.

A reminder that the United Kingdom has a very different form of government than the United States. So rules surrounding the use of documents may indeed be quite djfferent.

That said, scholarly use with appropriate references and sourceing, is always legitimate and part.of the ongoing intellectual discourse. WikiTree is a legitimate part of that discourse, using both new information collected from users and older published,  often copyrighted, informatjon. I want to point out: THAT IS NORMA!.

What is abnormal is the attempt by.Ancestry.com Operations and the Church of Latter day Saints to assert their sole ownership.of records in the public domain. Ancestry.com cannot prevent.anyone.from using that information..
+11 votes

See: Ancestry Copyright Policy for the answer on using the images/photos.

by David Selman G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
Leader Steve Harris brought up another point that should be considered: derrivative works.  Some of the Ancestry.com images have been rescanned by Ancestry contractors and technicians have edited (enhanced and 'cleaned') the images for better viewing.  Some of these edited images may qualify for copyright protection based on the new work.

I spent the afternoon on the phone with Ancestry yesterday and finally reached someone in the corporate offices.  He also was unsure of the answer and asked me to submit  written question and said that they would reply.  I'll ask for specifics: do they mind if we republish a crop of an image (one or two lines), republish one public domain doc, or even a few public domain docs.  I'll report back when I get a reply from them.

Last night I submitted a question to Ancestry.com via their chat support asking whether it was permissible for images downloaded from their site to be uploaded to WikiTree. I specifically mentioned census records in my question. This is a sentence from the brief reply I received by email: "Copyright generally remains with the original supplier of the document so permission would need to be obtained from them however Ancestry does have a page and address to apply for permission." I was then given a link to this page

When looking at the semantics of Ancestry's T&Cs, I agree that the phrase "small portion of individual photos and documents" in isolation is ambiguous.  However, if you look at how "portion" is used in other parts, it is clarified.  As others highlighted, "small portion of these collections" makes it clear that portion refers to the collections.  That's not the only instance.  Right above the Public Domain Content section is one for Ancestry Content.  The bottom line says you agree "not to distribute, republish, or sell significant portions of any Ancestry Content."  Again, portion is clearly not referring to a snippet of a page.

For anyone troubled by what number constitutes a small portion, Ancestry claims to host over 27 billion records (https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/about-ancestry/company-facts).  Based on their age and location, a large majority is probably public domain.  For the sake of argument, let's assume that only half are public domain, so 13.5 billion.  If a Wikitree user takes the time to post 1,000 individual records, that's still only 1/13,500,000th of their collection.  Certainly a small portion.

The bottom line is that Ancestry.com understands that they don't "own" their public domain content because they can't, it's public domain.  Their interest is in preventing people from bulk downloading large segments of their repositories and republishing or reselling them.  They keep the wording of their T&Cs nebulous so that they have legal recourse should they ever need it.  They didn't have a ready answer for SJ because what's happening on Wikitree is a non-issue for them. 

Inhibiting the sharing of information is bad for genealogy and Wikitree shouldn't discourage sharing except in those instances where required by law (i.e. copyrighted material).  We don't need to be stretching to come up with reasons not to share.

Good points all around Kerry.  

I did talk to a supervisor on the phone at Ancestry and she stated (rather 'matter-of-fact') that all public domain documents at Ancestry can be shared freely.  I followed up again via email and I received this reply concerning (only) US documents provided by the National Archives:

Any record that has been provided by the National Archives and Records Administration and posted on Ancestry is available for use without written permission.

This would apply to all census records, military records, immigration and nationalization records, Federal land and BLM records, treaties, laws, Congress, Senate, and Presidential records, all Federal documents, etc.

While this email didn't say what the supervisor told me over the phone I'm convinced the policy is the same for all public domain docs.  I'll inquire further via email in order to have it in writing.

Sharing the information to other people and using the documents without written permission is one thing, but now 'posting' those images on another website would not seem to be the same thing.  Did they actually state that the images could be posted on other websites?

I'm not sure how to make "may be shared freely" and "use without written permission" more clear.

These are records in the public domain.  This means that they are not under any sort of copyright protection and by law can be freely shared.

The issue, here at Wikitree, is the terms of use directions and the guidance in the help pages that direct that documents can only be shared if you have "written permission" from the website posting them.  This assumes that the website owns the documents.  In this case, Ancestry does not.  And it is moot anyways as they  have now given written permission: ... available for use without written permission.

There has been a long-standing belief in this community that it is somehow prohibited by copyright or contractual law (Ancestry's terms of service) to share public domin images downloded from Ancestry.  Indeed, the help pages were written with this understanding.  This is simply wrong and a lot of us are going to have to shift our perceptions.

Thank you, SJ, for all your time spent on this. The outcome is good, and it does mean that we have more freedom to use images on Ancestry than the current WikiTree guidance suggests.

The position is similar to that with some of the Gallery sites that I have listed on https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Galleries_and_Collections_which_have_given_Permission_for_use_of_Images. It is necessary to check if the image or record is shown as public domain. If it is, then it can be used freely (though some of the galleries request accreditation wording). When uploading a public domain image from Ancestry to WikiTree, WikiTree members should make it explicit that the image is public domain, and state where it has come from, with a weblink where available.

Good points Michael.  A determination should be made for each document as to whether or not it is in the public domain.

It is my firm conviction that once you have determined that any doc is in the public domain, regardless of where you found it, it may be shared freely.

So far as Ancestry goes, I have a verbal authoriztion from a supervisor that any public domain doc can be shared freely.  But in writing, I only have this confirmation for docs that are from the US National Archive.

Ancestry does give info on usage of images  .Here are two examples from British archives:

Images produced by permission of the City of London Corporation. The City of London gives no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided. Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB. Email - (redacted)  Infringement of the above condition may result in legal action.

Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1851. Data imaged from the National Archives, London, England. The National Archives gives no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided. Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to the National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU.

Whoever published those diaries or wrote them, before Ancestry.com Operations stepped in to gather it all up into their own copyright, do not loose their rights. Otherwise I could go copyright Emily Dickenson or the Bible all to myself. Its just silly!

+15 votes
Copyright issues are complex and confusing and WikiTree is filled with images of copyrighted text. Rather than trying to determine the legality of posting such images, the simplest solution to this issue would be to add a summary of the data found in the Ancestry record to the profile's biography section with a proper citation and a link (as Julie Kelts mentioned above).

The person telling you not to post these images may be correct. You might heed their advice rather than viewing it as harassment.
by Traci Thiessen G2G6 Pilot (300k points)
I believe that I mentioned somewhere else on this G2G thread that I stopped posting images of parish diary pages about two years ago (I don't recall exactly when I stopped).

My current bio writing style is essentially what you suggest other than that my citations are fairly informal and I am a bit erratic about providing URLs to where I found a source record (because I sometimes forget, I worry about links going stale, and I want to avoid subconsciously using a URL as a substitute for a sufficiently accurate and complete description of the source record that some 'mythical' person in the future can use to find said source record).
+5 votes

This won't solve the problem of having many comments posted on profiles, there are other sources for this information. 

The fact that Ancestry has a license to use this material does not mean they have total control of it. 

Library and Archives Canada has most of these records and the Canadian copyright Act is very different than the U.S. 

I have records I downloaded from LAC that are also available from Ancestry, as they are the identical images it is not possible for anyone to determine where they came from. 

by M Ross G2G6 Pilot (787k points)
Definitely "been there, done that". Sigh.

I'm sure that you (M Ross) know this but others who might read this might not so . . .

Copyrights are a can of worms in general. Crown copyrights have the added bonus that they don't generally ever expire (the rules change from time to time and Crown copyrights in, for example, the UK have different rules than Crown copyrights in Canada).

This means that IF the Québec parish diary records that I deal with are covered by Canadian Crown copyright then, at least under Canadian law, they might never become public domain (my recollection is that Canadian law now says that Crown copyrights eventually expire; I'm not sure of the rules and that's a side trip too far for me today - sorry).

Needless to say, this brings up the age-old question of "who's law applies?" Does US copyright law respect Canadian or UK Crown copyrights? (I doubt it but I am most definitely NOT a lawyer so I'll leave this question for the (really expensive grade of) lawyers who at least claim to understand international copyright law issues.

Lastly, the question of who's law applies is itself very complicated. For example, just because a contract says that it is to be interpreted according to the laws of country X, that doesn't mean that a judge in country Y gets to ignore country Y's laws when interpreting said contract. For example, it is my understanding that it is well established in US law that when a US court is interpreting a contract that says it is to be interpreted by some other country's laws, that the US court is required to adhere to, for example, the US constitution's free speech rights if free speech is at the heart of the dispute (there's a reason why lawyers who understand international law tend to fall into the category of "lawyers that get paid the big bucks).

And on top of crown copyright which certainly blocks the unlicensed reproduction of  UK census and other records, there is the question of whether scaning a document is skillful  and therefore creates a new copyright. I know it's not Canada but we often have similar laws.

A Freedom of Information request to the British Library over their claim to copyright over scaned images of out of copyright newspapers led to this correspondence https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/request_justification_of_claims

Basically the BL were saying they had legal advice ( which was not revealed) but this advice supported their position. It has never been challenged in a UK court.

I'm not so sure there is an issue with Canadian copyright, it comes under the Fair Dealing copyright exception. 


I'm not familiar with UK copyright. 

Just to clarify, the issue at hand that started this thread is actually not a copyright issue.  It is, as Legal Genealogist Judy Russell explains, a matter of contract law associated with the company -- in this case, Ancestry.com -- and our usage of their content -- copyrighted or otherwise -- based on their Terms and Conditions. See:


Helen; I read the entire post, it is quite interesting and quite problematic. I can see the potential for a photocopier operator or the person who scans legal docs for me being given a copyright on the material they loaded into the machine.

Jillaine: I have read that before. It makes me wonder if Ancestry and other similar organisations deliberately keep their T & Cs vague so that it is very difficult for the ordinary, non lawyer user to figure out what is allowed

M Ross wrote:  "It makes me wonder if Ancestry and other similar organisations deliberately keep their T & Cs vague so that it is very difficult for the ordinary, non lawyer user to figure out what is allowed."  Yes.  That is exactly what is happening.

True thing M, Kerry. I can understand they would rather not have other companies download all their scans, thus undermining their business model. I am really glad I live in a country where the documents themselves are copy right free, so you only need to deal with the thorny discussion of 'who owns the scans of copy-right free material'. Lawyers need to make money as well wink

I'm going to agree with M. Ross & Kerry; the terms are written vaguely to keep everyone in the dark.  I believe that Ancestry has no claim to exclusivity of the documents and wants to keep that fact a closed subject.  

I just spent another 90 minutes on the phone with Ancestry and was bounced around a few times as I was in the previous two calls.  Eventually I reached a well-intentioned supervisor who agreed that the terms are vague (same as the home office manger in my last call).  

I spoke at length with the supervisor about this paragraph:

Public Domain Content: Some Ancestry Content may be in the public domain, and yet also subject to restrictions on reuse. We refer to Ancestry Content in the public domain as “Public Domain Content.” You are free to use a small portion of individual photos and documents that are Public Domain Content, but you must obtain our written permission to use more than a small portion of these collections. If you have any questions about your use of Public Domain Content, please contact us.

She stated very matter of fact that Ancestry.com does not hold license to public domain content documents and that they can be freely copied and shared.  I asked her if she would put that in writing and she suggested I send an email to get it in writing and we laughed.

I did email, previously, on two different occasions as did Daniel.  We're still waiting for a reply.  I asked for the full email kit to try again:

She gave me three addresses to send my inquiry (same as last time) - all three ending in @ancestry.com:


Immediately after my email I received the following reply from the copyright@ email address:

notifications@ancestry <notifications@ancestry>

To: sjbaty

Thu, Sep 3 at 9:15 PM


Thank you for your interest in contacting Ancestry. Unfortunately, you have reached a non-working email address. Please visit our Ancestry Support site at the following link, where you will find helpful articles and information as well as our updated contact information for further support.


This is an automated email, please do not respond.

Not very inspiring frown

Will see if either of the other two emails answer this time.

Based on the few months long run-around, the vagueness of the ToS page, the statements from the supervisor I spoke with, I personally have no problem sharing a few public domain docs in their entirety.

Good work SJ. In my experience any company would draft these vague texts, just top keep doors open so to say (for both sides of the coin).

But public domain is public domain, even in the US, so I wouldn't worry about it really.
I never really expected that Ancestry would give a straight answer to any question that could be construed as an attempt to narrow their rights to the images in their control. it is simply not in their interests to concede anything along these lines as doing so is never to their benefit and could weaken their stance in some future legal action.

Until I hear otherwise, I intend to leave in place the images of the public domain documents that I uploaded to WikiTree.

WikiTree admins should feel free to advise me if my stance on this matter is problematic.
Thanks SJ, I have never had the energy or inclination to spend time trying to have such a conversation with Ancestry. Their attempt to control material that is in the public domain has never worried me.
Ancestry (finally) replied in writing saying that US Archive docs can be shared freely.  They didn't respond to the other parts of my email so I will inquire again.  But it is my opinion that public domain is public domain, regardless of who warehouses the collection.  I'll keep working to get it on paper so that we can close out the debate once and for all.
To:'SJ Baty'
Sat, Sep 5 at 1:04 AM                                             

September 4, 2020

Dear SJ,

Thank you for contacting Ancestry. We appreciate your feedback and are committed to providing you with excellent customer service.  

Any record that has been provided by the National Archives and Records Administration and posted on Ancestry is available for use without written permission. If the record is not from the National Archives and Records Administration, you must obtain permission from the original author. To locate the original source information, you will want to view the record details and scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Source Citation” section.

For your convenience, we have included a screenshot below of where to find the original data on a record:

If you have any questions regarding this or any other matters pertaining to Ancestry, please do not hesitate to contact us by responding to this email. 



Executive Office

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