Why post pictures from FindAGrave or BillionGraves?

+28 votes
1.4k views

Hello all!

I am concerned about all the pictures that I see that clearly have been copied from FindAGrave,  These are usually gravestone pictures or personal portraits, but occasionally, there are document pictures.

There are possible liabilities with copying these pictures.  Who has the copyright?  Did you get permission to copy that picture and post it elsewhere on the internet?  Are you sure you got the permission from the correct person/entity?

I am encouraging you to skip the copy and paste problems and questions by simply linking directly to the FindAGrave memorial.  If you like, you can link directly to the picture.  This linking frees you and the WikiTree sysops of copyright concerns. adds a much needed source to each profile, and saves storage space for an un-numberable amount of picture megabytes.

I use the following format to link directly to a FindAGrave memorial:  

== Sources ==

<references />

*[http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=xxxxxx Find-A-Grave Virtual Cemetery memorial #xxxxxx] in Name and Location of Cemetery

=== Photographed Sources ===

The blue xxxxxx is copied and pasted twice and the Name and Location of the Cemetery is copied and pasted directly from the FindAGrave memorial.  These are important sources and should be added to the Sources section of each profile so that others can view the source themselves.

Update edit 10 Jul 2018:  I now use the following source.  I copy and paste the citation listed on the FindAGrave memorial.  Then I enter {{FindAGrave| before the the memorial number and }} after to make an active link to the memorial.  Example: 

*Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 9 July 2018), memorial page for Aaron Smith (28 Feb 1827–9 Aug 1900), Find A Grave Memorial no. {{FindAGrave |11851292}}, citing Smith Cemetery, Wood County, West Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Crystal (contributor 46975682) .

WikiTree profile: Aaron Smith
in The Tree House by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (557k points)
edited by Kitty Smith
I agree. The person who took the photo owns the copyright. Find-A-Grave is quite adamant about people not copying their photos.
Even the pictures that I took and posted on Find A Grave I try to link to that site and not post here. If the link would ever not work for whatever reason I would think about posting the images I took on WikiTree but as long as I can just link to them there is no reason to put them on two sites and waste server space.
Each to their own :) As long as the photographer doesn't mind I'll use them. They finish a profile really nicely sometimes.
The problem is too often the person posting the photo doesn't own copyright. Many people fall into one of several categories. First, ownership of a photo does not equal ownership of copyright. I had many photos of my daughter taken by a professional photo studio and they own the copyright to those photos even though I paid them. The studio is known for pursuing any who violate its copyright. Second is the group who thinks acknowledging the source is the same thing as getting permission. All that does is prevent you from getting hit with a plagiarism charge. Next is the group who thinks once anything is posted online it goes in the public domain. It doesn't. Same for the group who say don't post online if you don't want it being used. This group ignores or is ignorant of copyright law. I see many claim "fair use" as an exception, but it's a pretty restricted exception and it probably doesn't apply. Another group thinks the odds of a copyright lawsuit are low or the cost is too high for somebody to bring one. People thought the same thing about all those Internet downloads until RIAA proved them wrong.  Another group assumes any government photos are fair game. While it is true photos taken by U. S. federal employees in the line of duty are usually fine, not all state or local governments follow the same rule. Also, not all images on a government site were taken by its employees. They may have permission from the copyright holder to post it on their site, but the donor retained copyright. Next is the group who thinks all pre-1923 items are fair game. That's only true if the photo, etc. was published before 1923. If it was never published, the item is protected by the copyright law that kicked in 1978 which is basically life + 70 years, 95 years after publication date, or 120 years after creation date. Find-A-Grave makes the mistake of allowing obits with the newspaper's permission when most obits are written by family members or funeral homes and that's who needs to give permission for normal obits.

In addition to the above, one last category is worthy of mention. Those are online images with some form of CCL exception. You have to be careful with any that have a commercial restriction if you use them on a site that has advertising. My blog doesn't use any form of ads at the moment, but I plan on adding affiliate links at some point. Once I do, it will be commercial sow I made the decision not add images with a commercial restriction unless I thought I could make an exceptionally strong case of it being "fair use."

There are enough people on the Find-A-Grave site who hold dear their copyright rights for the photos and obits they created to make it legally risky to ignore. They aren't required to put a notice on their contributor page notifying you of their copyright. If you use somebody's photo from the site make sure you have written permission (as in a signed letter) before you use it and that they actually have the copyright. I gave up asking permission a long time after having too many people claim they owned the copyright for photos they didn't and decided not adding them to other sites wasn't worth the hassle. I spent three years researching copyright law before I posted my first blog post several years ago. I did this after reading about a blogger who was sued for doing several of the above things. It went to court, but she made a deal before a ruling was issued which cost her a lot of money.

For any obits I add to any site, I re-write them to avoid the copyright issue and to comply with site rules about other things. If somebody submits an obit as an edit, I credit the person in case there is an issue later.

Best to link to the memorial on any of the graving sites instead of posting the photos unless you personally took the photos. I have seen a few save the memorial to the Wayback Machine in case the memorial gets deleted later for whatever reason. After the most recent rights grab by Ancestry which they didn't announce too loudly, many deleted their memorials or removed obits, photos, etc. and as more people become aware of the last rights grab, we will see more deletions.
Awesome post, Paul!  Thanks.
You have covered the copyright issue pretty well. I've heard others mention the deletion of memorials on findagrave. I don't know how significant a problem that is -- it's grown from 100 million to 150 million in the last few years, so there is not a big net loss.
Pictures I took of my ancestors' tombstones and posted to WikiTree are now on Find a Grave (without my permission). I do hope no one takes them off my ancestors' profiles here, thinking it was the other way around!
Hi Liz,  I don't think anyone should ever remove anything from a profile that they did not add themselves.  Pictures, sources (even "bad" sources), bios and documents should not be removed expect perhaps by the person that posted.

If there is incorrect information in a "bad" source, the correct information should be added as a notation with the source of the correct information.  I would be distressed if anyone removes/deletes anything that I add to any profile, though I am happy to learn about errors, corrections and sources.
Can't say I agree with you, Kitty.

I have crossed paths with many, many profiles which were uploaded via GEDCOM, years ago, and never touched again. Like you, I wouldn't remove a photo someone else uploaded. But many profiles have screens full of photo data, including links that refer to storage location on a remote computer somewhere, such as F:\blablabla\whatever\picture.jpg. They have zero value. I don't think respect for someone who never touched a profile even once after uploading it should have a lot of consideration, especially if there's no sign that they've been here for years.

I think, instead, keeping the needs of a future reader in mind. I like to pare it down as far as I can while still retaining any and all actual information. I've created a lot of profiles which I later orphaned. It goes with connecting unconnected profiles. For example, I attached Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson, author of Alice in Wonderland) awhile back. I put on 200+ profiles I connected, mostly by following the England Census during the Victorian period. I later orphaned them all, hoping that someone related to these people will someday stumble across them.

I leave them Open, of course, because non-open profiles require a manager. I leave the connections, a few bullet points of information (e.g. military service, often quoting a tombstone; names of parents from a birth or death certificate if I don't have dates. Sometimes I add cause of death or number of children. It's like leaving an empty room where a future resident can make themselves at home. Fix it up for themselves.

I do not like to leave profiles so that you have to search for 5+ minutes through mountains of GEDCOM nonsense to look for the most basic facts. I'm not even big on listing children in the Bio when they're already in the data fields. It's important to remember that this is a collaborative effort. There's only a handful of profiles where I think I know best, and want someone to consult me before changing. Anything where the privacy is Open, I figure that likely as not there's someone else knows better than me, and I don't want to be an obstacle to their contributions.

But that's just me. Your mileage may differ.
I actually agree with you, I think.  There is a big difference between cleaning up a gedcom mess and deleteing organized information and sources.  I clean up the garbage too, but I still try to leave the Ancestry url addresses and such.  I strip all the nonsense out and leave the link with a short title of Ancestry.com or whatever is appropriate.  I don't have access to Ancestry, so I never know if it is a good webpage or not.

5 Answers

+15 votes
I have a folder in my email titled Find A Grave authorizations.  Many folks that took these photos are happy to have them posted on other free sites.  I try to give attribution on the photo image such as "Photo used with gratitude to and permission of Find A Grave contributor Name (#xxxxxxx)."  When requesting permission, I give them the WikiTree profile url as collaboration with other genealogists has been insightful.  Also when you read the bio of the photo taker several give permission there to use their photos.
by David Wilson G2G6 Pilot (101k points)
I have not started to request permissions, but do plan to for some of the portraits. The photos of memorial are valuable sources yet I am not keen on posting them to profiles. Currently if I do use Find A Grave as a source, I'll link the memorial page, photo, and contributor.
+4 votes
As a former graphic  artist, I am somewhat familiar with copyrightght laws, and in order to claim copyright the person/photographer/artist must add the copyrightght 'C' to the picture.  If there is no attempt by the author to claim copyright, then none needs be presumed. In fact, - if a photographer or artist intentionally puts his work out on a publicly accessed Internet site, - his  actions Indicate his intent for it to be under Public Domaine laws.

Let's not go overoard over-interpreting the recent EU regulations. In fact a  counter argment could be made that the photographer never had the legal right to take and post that photo in the first place. I could counter-argue that a photographer who is NOT a momber of MY family, had NO right to take a photo of MY relative's  grave monument, AND breach my family's privacy, buy posting my relative's information on a public website.

I'm just trying to show that throughout the free Western world, there has been a history of commonn use, and that life is better for us all then we respect the concept of 'the common areas'. To go the other direction leads to the shutdown of information and knowledge.
by Christine Zakary G2G3 (3.1k points)
Christine, you have the copyright law somewhat backwards. Inaction on copyright does NOT put things in the public domain. It requires a specific action on the part of the copyright holder to do so. That is, it must be done in writing. The recent Virginia district decision not withstanding, publishing something does not invalidate a copyright. Extending your argument, then every book available in a library is not public domain

Common use does not mean legal and in some cases can lead to problems. It is not difficult to ask permission.

And at least in the U.S., "the fact that the photo wasn’t marked as copyrighted isn’t even relevant: modern copyright law doesn’t require a copyright notice.-- Judy Russell, "Copyright and the Online Photo," 9 July 2018 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2018/07/09/16661/) citing U.S. Copyright Office, “Circular 3: Copyright Notice,” Copyright.gov (https://www.copyright.gov/ )

+4 votes
I'm seeing a lot of ignorance of Copyright laws, and opinions posted as though it's fact here. Most people postng answers here don't know a thing about Copyright law and are posting their opinions.

Copyright does not exist unless the person clearly posts a claim when she published the photo. I was a Graphic Artist for a major National chain of stores. My employer hired lawyers who made sure that the Advertising Department Artists followed copyright law - to avoid lawsuits. As a Graphichic Artist, if I wanted to claim the right to Copyright protections, then I must clearly post on my photo or artwork the recordsgnizable "C" symbol.

That "C" tells others that I have filed to have my rights to my art protected by US law, and that I intend to defend those rights in Court if need be. If I didn't add the Copyright "C" and published it, my art or photo was not protected and I had no intention of protecting it. A Copyright is ismilar to patent law. If you don't file a Patent on your invention then you loose the protection and someone else can use your idea.

Let's also remember that "rights" to photographs and art varies from counttry to country. Which country laws are is Wikitree going to follow?? American laws conflict with some other countries' laws.  Really we need professional Lawyers to weigh in here. I lean towards, common usage.
by Christine Zakary G2G3 (3.1k points)
edited by Christine Zakary
Not correct. That is the pre-1978 copyright law. After that time a copyright is automatic until relinquished. No copyright notice is required. That "C" can be used without filing with the Copyright Office. Anyone that creates something can use it without filing. Filing just gives you a stronger case in court. Patent law is very different. I have had to deal with both. Copyright for art and patent for inventions.

You shouldn't encourage violating copyright law. Asking for permission and then giving a source citation that includes that permission should always be done.

"Asking for permission and then giving a source citation that includes that permission should always be done."

Totally agree Doug. It is so easy, on Find A Grave, to just click on the submitter's name and send them an email asking permission. I include a link to the profile where I wish to include the photo. Have always been granted permission, and twice received additional photos for other family members, via email.  Why rocking the boat unnecessarily?

Doug; I didn't't mean to Imply that the 'C' can only be used with  or after a filing. I would place the copyright 'C' to gove notce that I was retaining my rights to a particular artistic creation to file for protection later  if necessary. But when I didn't care, or when my art work was not unique, or - when my legal right to Copyright was ambiguous,  -then I would just publish without the C. To have a right to Copyright protection, the creator has to have added  something unique.You can't just copy the Declaration of Independence and then claim a Copyright

I question  the right of any non family member to publish photographs of non relatives graves, and definitely non relatives shouldld never have the right to copyrightght photographs of monuments they didn't order, design  or pay for.

If an argument can be made for copyright restrictions than an argumentment can be made for a Findagrave photographer being required to obtain written family permission to photographsh and publish  graves and personnal information  of  deceased persons they are not related to.

We can all see how silly this can get.  We may be witnessing a divergence of new EU law which is internet restrictive, v.s. USA law which traditionally  favors open sharing for the greater good.
Restrictions on photographs in cemeteries is up to the cemetery. Some do have strict rules on photography. I've been to a few that forbid it. People do need to check the local policies.
+6 votes

I encourage everyone to read Judy Russell's wonderful blog The Legal Genealogist. She is a lawyer and while not a copyright lawyer, she understands copyright law quite well. She has done several blogs about this. Judy can make the law intelligible to the rest of us.

by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (424k points)
+5 votes
Kitty, your updated version for citing FindAGrave is how I will be doing it from now on. I had started with the {{}} syntax then went to the citation FAG conveniently provides but combining the two makes it more complete.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (424k points)

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