Where are we on WikiTree with sources that claim ownership of "proprietary information"?

+7 votes
I was looking at the DAR site today and read their disclaimer at the bottom of the page about their "databases contain DAR proprietary information." Could someone summarize for me what we can and cannot use in our profiles? If I do research and post profiles on Ancestry.com, for instance, is it OK to use their sources on WikiTree? I would think, as long as you document, it would be. And, of course, this opens up the whole question of legal ownership of information about the deceased. Or, who "owns" information once you download a GED COM.
in The Tree House by Bob Scrivens G2G6 Mach 1 (19.6k points)

There have been other discussions about this subject here on G2G. I don't generally use their web site, but I have used the "DAR Linage Books" which are available for free online (1895-1923).

Short Answer: creation = copyright/ownership; if DAR created it don't use it without their permission.

Longer Answer: I have not needed to use their site nor have I looked at their policies but I would assume the DAR proprietary information would include, without limitation, the organization name itself, any identification numbers they assign, the content of any internal communications, membership information, etc. In broadest terms they could have copyright over anything they created including how the facts are organized, presented, or expressed.

There is however lots of gray area here - for example, while they can claim copyright over how information is organized and presented, simply organizing information alphabetically or chronologically is considered 'obvious' and is not copyright-able.

Similarly, the actual facts about people (names, places, dates, etc.) are not subject to copyright, but how the facts are expressed (the overall composition of paragraphs or a document including word choice, sentence structure, sequencing, etc.) may be subject to copyright.

An image of a form (such as a membership application) even when blank would not be OK - they created and therefore own the layout of the form.

They could, in theory, even have copyright over how citations are formatted (i.e. "the presentation of a citation") if they have created their own unique DAR citation style - the content of the citation however would still not be copyright-able as the author, title, publisher, and page number are facts.


Thanks for the depth you went into, Rob. I hope somebody will address the second part of the question about citing sources found while on Ancestry in the profiles for the same person on WikiTree.

And can anyone tell me if you've heard of anyone being forced to take down information they cut and pasted from somewhere else? My sense is copying information from other sources happens all the time on genealogy sites.

1 Answer

+1 vote

Your original question "is it OK to use [Ancestry.com's] sources on WikiTree?" was a tad unclear to me... Taken in the broadest sense using their sources could mean downloading their images and uploading them here which is not generally OK (even if the content is not subject to copyright such use likely breaches the terms and conditions, in other words the user's contract with Ancestry)

Your subsequent question clarifies that by "use" you meant citing sources found on Ancestry - that is definitely ok (leaving aside any discussion about quality/reliability of information found in derivative sources and user contributed content hosted by the site which is, on the whole, pretty abysmal)... the primary concern with using their provided citations (the s key when looking at a source if I recall) are a question of detail. I dug in the Internet Wayback Machine to find this blog post which gave a simple example:

Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004), www.ancestry.com, Database online. Year: 1900; Census Place: Mobile Ward 6, Mobile, Alabama; Roll: T623_31; Page: 24A; Enumeration District: 103.


1900 U.S. census, Mobile, Alabama, population schedule, Mobile, enumeration district (ED) 131, sheet 24-A (penned), dwelling 496, family 564, Micheal McGovern; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 June 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 31.

Mostly the same information, but a) the second example is more specific (identifies entry and person of interest) and b) puts the emphasis on where the fact(s) actually came from by making them the leading element of the citation.

As to the second question - absolutely yes. We have had cases here on Wikitree where content has been wholesale copy/pasted from other websites (including Wikipedia articles, FindAGrave memorials, and 'personal' websites) and has been removed (or more often rewritten). This sort of activity violates the Wikitree Honor Code specifically the statement "We don't knowingly copy information that's owned by someone else." - when discovered/reported corrective action is taken both with the offending content and with the user that 'contributed' it.

See also Wikitree Help topic: Copying Text

by Rob Ton G2G6 Pilot (275k points)
Very thorough answer. Thanks for your clarity.

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