Contributor refers to all of her data is Copyrighted

+10 votes
There are a number of profiles generated by a specific contributor which has the statement like the following for the profiles she manages. These are her words:"The information that I, (shows her name)  have added to this profile is from our family documents and is coyprighted and can not be duplicated without my permission.The pictures that I have posted of family members and headstones and obituaries are my own personal items please do not use without my permission. Information that I have added is also my own personal information and is copyrighted. Please do not copy without my permission. I have add source so that the information from my family records can be verified."

My question is regards to information on copyright. If you look at the referenced profile and others in her management, there are many profiles without pictures or anything which looks like it needs to be under copyright.  Should this statement be included on all of her profiles and if so why?

I have been making contributions to improve various family profiles (manged by other contributors), adding sources, changing the verbiage as appropriate etc.  In some cases adding paragraphs and/or restructuring some of the data so that it tells a story.  So are the portions which I added/modified specifically under my copyright?

I have created many profiles which I manage, So are the profiles which I manage under "copyright" law?  

Please note, my intention is not to ridicule this contributor or her work.  I know of at least two other contributors that like myself are hesitant to make any changes to the profiles which she manages, because of the verbiage on her profiles.  Or then again, depending on the rules maybe I should be using the statement.  I have a cousin on this site, that spends a lot of time, inputting very original information (stories and investigative work that no one else has figured out about our massive family).  She is writing a book(s) on our families, maybe she shouldn't be adding all of her information to this or other sites.
WikiTree profile: Robert Phelps
in WikiTree Help by Nancy Jones G2G1 (1.4k points)
retagged by Lynda Crackett
She can claim personal anecdotes , family memories, family Bible , and photos. Any DOCUMENT, such as birth, christening, marriage and death records can be used by anyone who locates them online or obtains copies through church and government archives
Any narrative that you have written in a biography section of a profile would be copyrighted to you. The data no.
I better not add anything to these profiles, I may get into trouble with all the copyrights placed on these profiles,I don't want an expensive lawsuit against me.
Another thought, what if you are a cousin to this family and have your own photos of say a family gathering, that would still be under copyright laws, and you have the rights to it, would you feel like adding it to these profiles,  That someone else claims that they have the copyright to all the information on these profiles. No I would not.
Interestingly, the exact or very similar   information can be found on about this family if you have search for  Robert Phelps.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to post their thoughtful and informative messages regarding this issue. This exercise has given me some time to review the information regarding copyright law  and Wikitree policy.  "As others have pointed out, facts and information are not protected by copyright law", but the art associated with the creative writing is. 

From the WikiTree policy:

"4. Posting and Modifying Website Content

General. Our goal is to maintain WikiTree as an inviting, useful, safe and well-functioning community for all users. We reserve the right to prohibit or remove, without prior notice, any content that, in our sole judgment and discretion, interferes with that goal."

I do feel her current "copyright" paragraph is distracting and non-inviting for collaboration and should be deleted.  But how can this be done without making the contributor feel underappreciated.  It sounds like this contributor does the same thing in Ancestry. Should I make the correction to the profile or would it be better if someone from WikiTree sends a message to her.   I'm not sure how many profiles she manages, but I assume the statement is on every profile.  Looking for suggestions. Thanks again.

Not sure who should do it but a private message pointing out that information cannot be copyrighted and that the notice detracts from the otherwise nice biography. Also a a suggestion that she review the Honor Code and that it already says what she is trying to say in her long paragraph.

Someone can probably find a way to say it nicer than I could. If that doesn't work then point to the WT policy she agreed to when joining.
Definitely a private message,. Since there is more than one profile involved, I think it should come from a WikiTree System how do I contact that person or group of people?
Is there a Mentor list.  It looks like she joined in 2014....I think that would be a very civil way of handling this.

5 Answers

+16 votes
Best answer

I know this doesn't cover the full brevity of your question however I believe the wikitree Terms of Service may cover some of these questions. Specifically section 5 with regards to

Ownership and Use of Content

License to in User Content. By posting User Content on the Website, you grant, and agree to grant, a license to use, copy, distribute, display, perform, and transmit the User Content you post in connection with's (and its successors' and affiliates') business. You also hereby grant each user of the Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Content through the Website, and to use such User Content as permitted through the functionality of the Website and under these Terms of Service. The licenses granted by you in this Section 5 in User Content are non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, sublicenseable, and transferable.

Wiki Editing. You understand that the website is a wiki, and as with all wikis, User Content posted to the Website can be edited, revised, or deleted at any time by us, or by other users as permitted through the functionality of the Website and under these Terms of Service. You consent to and license the editing, revision, and deletion of User Content posted by you. You understand that the Website, as is the usual practice with wikis, retains earlier versions of content, but you acknowledge that we are not obligated to do so.

See: Wikitree Terms of Service

by Anthony McCabe G2G6 Pilot (390k points)
selected by Living Tardy
+8 votes
The documents can be copyright but "data" cannot be copyrighted. This is true no matter the source of the data (at least in the USA). Names, dates and places are data.  Copying the full text would not be acceptable if copyrighted. Also, there are things that may once have been copyrighted but aren't any longer. Anything written before 1923 in the USA is no longer under copyright.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (556k points)
Looking at her profiles, there is very little that is copyrightable. Everything above the Biography line in the profiles is data and not copyrightable. She has some speculative stuff in the Bio that would be copyrightable as text, but anyone looking at the sources could come to the same conclusion.
That would be a issue of Plagiarism would it not?
It would be plagiarism if you copy the text exactly, but if the text was formulaic, which a lot of WT profiles are, then it would not necessarily be plagiarism to use it.
+20 votes

The contributor's copyright notice is incorrect and invalid for several reasons:

1 - As others have pointed out, facts and information are not protected by copyright law. Only creative works, such as photos or writing, are.

2 - Just because someone has possession of an old photo or letter does not mean they own the copyright to it. The copyright belongs to the person who created it and expires after a period of time. As s result, for example, any copyright to a photo or letter from the 19th century has long since expired.

3 - When you join wikitree, you agree to the wikitree Terms of Use. Sections 5 and 6 of the Terms of Use provide that every wikitree member grants wikitree and every other wikitree member a license to use and edit the content they post. See

by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (321k points)
edited by Chase Ashley
Also, a copyright notice needs to be done properly. At my last job, the lawyers were very, very fussy about the syntax of the copyright notices. At a minimum, it needs to be roughly in the form of "Copyright <year> <person's name>"  where the year is the year the work was created or in which a derivative work was created. The word "Copyright" could be replaced with "Copr." or "©".

In any case, as you said, the contributor can't copyright data and the licensing terms allow for re-use by others.

At a minimum, it needs to be roughly in the form of "Copyright <year> <person's name>"  where the year is the year the work was created or in which a derivative work was created. The word "Copyright" could be replaced with "Copr." or "©".

Lawyers may be fussy about this, and it may be considered standard practice, but there is no requirement to include any of these items for a work to be copyrighted. If I took a picture and uploaded it here to WikiTree, you could not legally download it and host it on your own. Even if no statement of copyright is present, the work is still under copyright laws.

I agree with everything you said. I was just saying that if someone actually puts a copyright notice on something, it should follow the specified format. The person who is copyrighting all of her "data" and artifacts is clueless but she is explicitly claiming copyright. In most of the cases, the claim is invalid for lots of reasons.
Agreed. I also find it funny that "coyprighted" was misspelled.
+3 votes
In response to your question about your cousin publishing her work on here , it depends why she is publishing and who is publishing.

If she is self publishing and not concerned with sales then there is no problem.If she wants to sell the book to others publishing here might limit her market.

If she intends to find a publisher  ( a difficult task in itself) they will probably not touch it if a substantive portion is available elsewhere.

This  would also apply if she she wanted to publish a paper in an academic journal. Publishing elsewhere before hand is a definite 'no, no'.

Just to add, I felt a bit miffed to find a cut and paste copy of a  detailed bio. I had written on Geni (a citation would have done) I then thought 'c'est la vie'. If one wants open access to research and a permanent (and free) repository, one can't complain when people make use of it.
by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
edited by Helen Ford
+5 votes
There are a lot of great answers here already, but I wanted to break this down a bit farther using the linked profile as an example.

A fact or a theory—for example, the fact that an ancestor was born (including either a general year or an exact date)—is not protected by copyright. If a genealogist discovered this fact, anyone would be free to use it without asking for permission from the genealogist. Similarly, if a genealogist creates a theory that the ancestor died between two dates because of the lack of documentation in census records, anyone could use that theory.

However, the unique manner in which a fact is expressed may be protected. Therefore, if a genealogist created a movie or wrote a book (or biography) about how and when they believe that same ancestor died (black plague, or fell off a wagon and was crushed in a stampede), the specific way the genealogist presented the ideas in the works would be protected by copyright.

To tie this directly back to the linked profile - none of the work on the page is able to be copyrighted. They are all facts or theories that are not expressed in a unique manner.
by Steven Harris G2G6 Pilot (775k points)
Why the Beverly Hillbillies theme song popped into my head, but as I was thinking this through, I was picturing:

Jed Clampett - born 1908 - died 2003. (fictional facts, not able to be copyrighted)

Jed Clampett was born on a small piece of land in the back hills of Tennessee in 1908. He grew up and got married and was out shootin' food, when he struck crude... oil that is. Texas Tea. So he and his kin folk moved off to Beverly. Hills that is. He became famous, and retired back to Tennessee before he passed away in 2003 at the ripe old age of 95. (fictional biography that "could" be copyrighted, except that it's a made up fiction and that I'm sure someone in Hollywood would take offense if I tried.)

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