Recent Virginia court decision on copyright is more complicated than we may think

+18 votes

Judy Russell (The Legal Genealogist) has a posted a great piece warning us to not over-interpret a recent Virginia court decision about photos and fair use:

in Policy and Style by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (806k points)
So that means that if we use a copyrighted picture that since it is from the internet it is fair play? Besides we are not profiting from it and it is solely being used for genealogical and teaching & learning anyway. SO it means that it is ok to use under our conditions? Sorry I am not very good at following legalese.

No, that's not what it means. To quote a couple of places from Judy's article:

"The bottom line here is that there isn’t a hint in the decision that the copyrights of all photographers whose work appears online is at risk. This decision is — like all fair use decisions — based on its unique individual set of facts. This particular combination of facts isn’t likely to be repeated in any other case — which means it can’t be used to predict the outcome of any other case."


"copying of photos found on the internet is not fair use, not in all cases, not under all circumstances."

Citation: Judy, "Copyright and the online photo," Legal Genealogist (blog), 9 July 2018;; accessed 10 July 2018.

As Jillaine said, it doesn't mean that. The court ruling was very narrow and applied to just that one case in that one District of Virginia. Also, it would likely be overturned on appeal.
Thanks Jillaine and Thanks Doug. ok so right now can we  or are we not allowed to use pictures that are copyrighted? If it does NOT say copyrighted somewhere in the information then it is free to use? What about birth and death certificates and Marriage licenses, are they copyrighted or owned by anyone? Too bad I could not copyright  my mailing address and keep all the junk mail out of my house. hahaha

Jerry, no, we cannot do that.  As Russell's article points out: "the fact that the photo wasn’t marked as copyrighted isn’t even relevant: modern copyright law doesn’t require a copyright notice.9"

9. See e.g. U.S. Copyright Office, “Circular 3: Copyright Notice,” : accessed 9 July 2018.

The judge's ruling does seem quite outstanding in its point-by-point illogicality.
Thank you everybody for answering all my questions. I wish everybody the best I am watching World Cup and every time I start saying something, there is something exciting in the match. I forgot what I was going to say LOL Anyway thanks everybody for your help.

1 Answer

+7 votes
Best answer
I think the article provides good clarification on this issue.
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (608k points)
selected by Eric Weddington

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