Advice from the wikitree community, please.

+21 votes
Donnie Blackstone and I created a profile for a deceased American musician. There are 16 articles online about Mr. X.  Most are newspaper obituaries. Today we received an email from a woman who says she "is the Webmaster of all things on the world wide web pertaining to," Mr. X.

Although not a wikitree member, she apparently seeks to control what is presented on the profile.

What is a webmaster and can someone own a dead man ?

Pending advise, I stripped the bio and red locked the profile .

What to do ?
in The Tree House by Eddie King G2G6 Pilot (707k points)
Their website has nothing about having permission to oversee all information about Skipp Pearson.

Though I notice there isn't a Wikipedia page for him - maybe 'the Foundation' have scared off them as well?
I could not find an entry on him in Wikipedia, either.
Unbelievable! Sure is a lot of hogwash. A webmaster is a person who is in charge of creating and/or maintaining a web site. They can do that on their own behalf or for someone else (as a volunteer or as a paid webmaster.)

This woman certainly does have delusions of grandeur!

My maiden name is Pearson. Do I get a piece of the action too? LOL
Makes me wonder what they want to hide?
Herb, see the new answer
I have no problem if Admin decides to delete the profile.

But, consider.

We have hundreds of dead celebs in Notables. What if this happens again ? The dictatorial directive ?  Notables could be stripped of most of its profiles.
I doubt if there are many deceased notables whose estates have the financial werewithal to secure a legally enforcable restriction on media publications.
This is a genealogy site that is listing him and any ancestors.  There is no commercial explotation of him, no charge for viewing the site, and there is no selling or promotion of any of his records, memorabilia, etc. so I don't see where she has a leg to stand on.
John - my web admin flagged their website as potentially hazardous, so to me that's not a good sign. It's not necessarily a bad thing (sites get accidentally flagged from time to time), but it makes me leery of overriding the block and visiting from my work computer. Moreso from home,  where I have less protection.
I read through some of the answers and I didn't see anyone say, he is a public figure in history , therefore people have a right to write about him publicly. Think about Elvis and how some things are controlled by his family and estate but he too is a public figure.

I am not a lawyer but maybe there is one at wikitree that could provide more incite legally

12 Answers

+24 votes
Well, that's just too bad! She does not "own" Mr X, and she may even suffer from delusions of grandeur.

When I worked at Borders, new music day was Tuesdays. During the big run of "American Idol," one of the winners had a local fan club, and the president came strolling into the store. "Why is XX's CD not at the top of the shelf? He is a top-selling artist and I am the President of his Fan Club. I demand to see the manager." We were glad to put her in touch with our manager! hah. She left with her tail between her legs, vowing to report us to corporate. ALL of our displays of new releases, etc., came from corporate, and we were not to deviate from the arrangement.

So, maybe the webmaster is the president of Mr. X's fan club!
by Natalie Trott G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
Delusions or just plain insane? You make the call. If you are a webmaster of one site, you can't dictate the rest of the Internet.
+15 votes
You can do a biography and research on him and share it. Just make sure that any photographs and other material you use are not copyright protected.  If you use copyrighted images, and this person owns the copyright and expects royalties you may be getting into trouble.
by Lance Martin G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
It should fall under fair use. Eddie's fine.
I don’t understand your reply. Does that mean we can use any photos we want? Why does wikitree ask us when we upload photos where we got them?
We can use photos. Just need to mention where we got them. If we source it, it's fine.
If you use other people’s photos, they must be either out of copyright or you must get permission or they must have been explicitly put into the public domain. In this instance, others’ photos be covered by copyright. Even if someone has allowed a photo they have taken to go on a website about him, they still have copyright and their permission is needed for reuse.
+13 votes
On the one hand, I understand their frustration. They are an organization, no matter what their size, dedicated to cataloging and honoring the life, death, and essence of a person - to not have control and/or access to all parts of that would feel like, for a very dedicated group, that they have failed to consider another aspect of this person they admire and seek to immortalize through their memory. Their goal isn't to "own" this person, but to give him life through all forms, long after his death, and they just want the best possible image out there for him, the most honest yet flattering image possible.

On the other hand, approaching you the way they had shows a complete lack of diplomacy and tact. Their e-mail should have instead focused on a shared respect for this dead musician and their wanting to work with you to make his WikiTree profile as beautiful as possible, rather than to claim ownership of it.

I'm sorry you went through this regardless, Eddie - you seem like the sort of guy who if they had approached you in a more civil, less entitled manner that you would have been ecstatic to work with them to rock out this musician's profile.

Regardless, I look forward to reading the ruling on this by the WikiTree Admin. I don't have any advice to offer, aside from keep your cool and calm when interacting with them. If they read my answer, I hope they gleam from it the sort of conduct they should be offering you instead.
by G. Borrero G2G6 Pilot (126k points)
Very thoughtful response and you are right! The Foundation seems to be a great entity with a wonderful mission. It's kind of sad that their director, a volunteer like we are, had to take that tack in her correspondence with Eddie.

I have not responded to this second email. The first one, where she declared herself Webmaster, I only responded by sending a link to my own profile and  links for another musicisn

and an actor I did last week

to show how I work.

She thinks she's messing with an amateur! Those profiles are magnificent. My Dad would have loved both, too, as he was a fan of both jazz and cowboys.(and we used to roll our eyes if he was in the TV room..we were stuck watching cowboy shows.)
Holy cow, those are some fantastic profiles.
I've done one for ROGER CORMAN that is Da Bomb . But it has to stay black lock until he dies. It is my Magnus opus. My Sistine Chapel. If you want a peek at it, ask Scott Fulkerson to put you on the trusted list.
Oh cool! I shall do so in the near future.
+15 votes
Herb Tardy asked what "they" might be trying to hide. Eddie the X-Treme Kong of snoopery has determined that

His parents were never married and both apparently had other children with non-spousal partners.

He fathered, according to find a grave, 15 children and in none of the online bios is there a wife.
by Eddie King G2G6 Pilot (707k points)

So, the "approved" bio can have no mention of this.



This is kind of sad, though. The brilliantly talented man is missing from Wikipedia, probably for this same reason. As long as his namesake foundation (which has no links to "our history" or anything and you must join in order to see most of the site) exists, every bio or article written will have to pass through the filter  and will simply say

"Ambassador Pearson (Pops) leaves two sisters, eight brothers, fifteen children, twelve grandchildren, twenty nieces, and nephews along with countless other family members, friends, and patrons."

I found only this memorial:

Maybe it's been scrubbed too?
Love it when Nat quotes Doctor Who. More in a minute.
I think not including such important facts is a disservice to his memory; being honest and showing integrity in reporting his children, including "illegitimate" ones, is key to showing who he was, and encouraging people to learn more about him. Did this man acknowledge his children as his? Did he go out of his way to see them? What sort of memories do, did, they have of him? More than just recording relationships, genealogy is about painting a portrait of each person researched. Rose-colored glasses have no place here.

I hope you include it in his profile, Eddie.
Wow. I feel simultaneously gratified and saddened to have my cynicism validated.  Which category of child is KAnderson, do ya think?
Hey guys, let's try not to comment on KAnderson's character and make assumptions about what the foundation may or may not be trying or not trying to hide.  I'm a little disappointed in some comments in this thread and would hate to have someone from the foundation come and read this. It's one thing to debate the legitimacy of what they've sent Eddie, it's another to go after the people running the foundation who are probably trying to do their best to uphold whatever the mission of their foundation is, like we try to uphold ours.

+10 votes
Let me see if I get this right.

This lady who runs a FANsite and calls herself a "webmaster of all things related to this musician" is trying to dictate what a legit genealogy site should do? Tell this lady to sell her crazy somewhere else. We're all stocked up here!

I've unpacked this and I think Natalie is too polite. Delusions of grandeur is way too polite a term for this lady. I'm thinking something else and it isn't that polite to say on Wikitree.

There's a few things this lady needs to consider.

1. Fair Use. The man is a dead celebrity. That means profiles about this man can be used all over the Internet as long as it is well researched. No one can own a profile. It's like when I made that profile for Steve Ditko. I don't claim ownership of the man. He was a legendary artist.

2. Is this lady related to this guy? Only then can she have any real leg to stand on. if she is not related then who cares? The lady is full of it.

The article you posted falls under fair use and thus is fine to post as long as you cite the sources. And knowing you as I do, you cite sources and dig deep. You find stuff no one else can. So really she's just an uppity fan. If she can prove she is related then she'd have a claim. As she doesn't, ignore her and move on.

Some people are up themselves and it's a shame. Whatever. You're better than this crazy lady. And I agree with everyone's sentiment so far.

At least she isn't a YouTube copyright bot.
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (782k points)
edited by Chris Ferraiolo
It appears to be a legit foundation, and Mr Pearson mentions it in an interview with NPR.

Maybe he had something to do with founding it, but who knows: their site has no info for public consumption! You gotta JOIN JOIN JOIN.

Perhaps he left instructions that his life history be forever private or "cleaned" of any history that might appear unsavory. He might have wanted to protect someone.. who knows why.

But if Eddie found him in, say, the 1940 Census, this is something the Foundation cannot argue with. It's public information released by the US Government. And if his marriage record is anywhere and released by a state/local government, that would also be public record. You can't squash public records. And dead people have no privacy, only their living relatives do.
They have a video on YouTube.
Chris, your point #3 is mistaken.

Here's how this works, I think.  Pure speculation.  KAnderson speaks for the Skipp Foundation, which comprises fans and family members.  Foundation has attorneys, most likely family members who work for free.  Foundation asserts authority to approve all utterances related to the late lamented Pops.  No such authority exists, except to the extent the Foundation can impose it.

Website Y publishes info regarding Pops.  Foundation's pet attorneys issue cease and desist letter.  Website Y ignores, because hogwash.  Pet attorneys file lawsuit.  In the USA, anybody can sue anyone for any reason.  Website Y has the choice to fold, or to spend thousands of dollars responding to and resisting bogus lawsuit.  Meanwhile, the Foundation spends no money.  The goal is not to go to court and actually win the baseless lawsuit, it's just to make it financially prohibitive for Website Y to pursue publishing 'unauthorized' info.  Foundation's bullying prevails.  I am not a lawyer, but I have experienced groundless legal threats before.
I see your point. I think Eddie is going to delete if need be. It's like when my friend, Mathew put up a review of "Dead Men Don't Die". He got hassled by one of the producers of the movie. The movie is awful. Why anyone would attach themselves to it is beyond me. Anyway, he ended up taking the video down despite being in the right thanks to Fair Use and all that.

Still, I think the lady here needs to prove a relationship with the deceased in order to have any real legal standing. That's just me. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Strange thing is Skipp doesn't seem to have a Wikipedia article or an IMDB. Hmmm....

You'd think being a celeb and all he'd have one. Oh well.

I think you are right though. I am just throwing ideas out there. I just think the lady needs to prove kinship and that Eddie needs to prove where he got the info..

And you might be right, Nat. I still would tread lightly. I guess this would all depend on where Eddie got the info and if this goes with the guy's wishes or not.

Perhaps that's why he's not on Wikipedia and imdb or anything. The family may wish to be quiet. Who knows?

Weird thing is that he at least has a Find A Grave. Edited my post.

KAnderson is Kim Anderson, Director of Operations of the Skipp Pearson Foundation.  Eddie's e-mail came from her in her role with the foundation, not from her personally.  It's a real thing, incorporated as a nonprofit in South Carolina effective 19 Mar 2007.

Shirley Martin, the Registered Agent shown at the link, is the Executive Director.  I cannot find them on the IRS website search for tax-exempt entities.  It is possible to register in a state as a nonprofit entity without being recognized as such by the IRS.  On the foundation website, I can't find any claim about donations being tax deductible, etc, but they definitely will accept your money.  Which they will happily spend to suppress uncomfortable truths about their Pops.

People can try. I had some communication with a person who was convinced that they owned the right to photograph their tombstone and that of their families. I sought legal advice and found that since it is displayed in public and on public land, it is considered public domain. 

Also: this : 

Regina mother speaks out against police withholding murder victims' names

Well, as long as she is who she claims to be then Eddie has a bit of an issue to deal with. That being said it is still a dodgy issue, right? Though, I think it's a little crazy thinking she can hoard all media related to this guy.

Shouldn't she want more recognition for the artist? That way more people would be exposed to the work. Just my thoughts on it.
Not Eddie's issue to deal with.  It's WT they'll sue if it comes to that.  Maybe naming Eddie, too.  Eddie did the right thing passing it on to Eowyn.
Yes. That was a good call. Probably should have done that rather than make a thread in public like this. This thread should probably be closed/deleted.
+9 votes
There is a thing in rights and permission law called Estate Rights.  They may have petitioned a court for the rights to his estate and been granted it./

The only way you will know is to have a Rights and Permissions attorney research it.  Most lawyers I know will not delve into rights and permissions law because it varies by state and country and has a lot of very expensive traps in it.  The estate of Bela Lugosi sued when his image was used in a commercial and they won millions.   

I would tread carefully.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (842k points)
An image used in a money-making endeavour without compensation is one thing.

Freedoms granted US citizens under the First Amendment is another.

However,  awaiting Eowyn.
Often you have opposing views of rights that end up in a court of law.

I sent to your private email one link  I have the Bela Lugoisi case somewhere in my archive upstairs but can't stop to dig it out right now.

You might be able to do a web search on the court case to see what precedents were used and created.   

I have only seen this enforced for people who were famous and their name (and more often if they used a "stage name") are under some kind of trademark or designated heir right as laid forth in their will.  

WikTree is a commercial site.  It is not non profit like Wikipedia so it has different standing in terms of courts of law.  

This is why whenever I had anything that dealt with people of note I ran it by our Rights and Permissions attorneys we worked with.  I was amazed at what we could and could not do.  

Census records would not be covered but family stories might be.
I agree with you, Laura. Eddie has to tread lightly and show where he got the info. By the same token, this lady needs to show if she is related to the guy.

It's a bit of a thorny situation. But, there are ways around it via censues and the like. Those are public. So....At best Eddie can make a barebones profile with just a rough sketch of his life. Just like I did with Steve Ditko. Perhaps he can compromise.

I still think the lady's a little off since she claims to be the webmaster for all things related to this guy.
Bare bones ? Over my dead body. I am an artiste! An artiste!  Would you suggest Andy Warhol take the label off the soup can ?
Depends on if a court has granted some far reaching rights.  Not everything a court does stands up if you appeal but there could be some kind of rights granted and without researching it I would tread very carefully.  

It has been my experience that what people think rarely is what happens when you get into a court of law.  Not all laws are fair (I have many examples of that).   

Not knowing more I just know that he was a celebrity so Estate Rights may include rights to his name if he used a stage name, to his work, to his image, to anything published with any of those.  

Eddie can request a copy of any court designated rights to those things.
I'd rather write the Official Star Trek Fan Club/CBS/Paramount about Majel Roddenberry.  One of the wealthiest franchises in the history of entertainment and they have never challenged fan postings of any kind .

In fact on YouTube, there are several dozen fan made films using the Star Trek characters and an online novel by Milo Owen where she intimates Commander Ryker (STTNG) was bisexual.
Pretty sure the Roddenberry estate would love your profile on Majel Barret-Roddenberry. So there'd be no issue. I've seen more detail on Memory Alpha. Star trek actors like the site. Paramount, on the other hand takes issue with people making fan movie. Looks like a wikia is different from a movie.

And yes I know Bare bones is lame. Forget I said that, my friend. =D

I'd go with what Laura said. Tread lightly and make sure this lady is who she says she is. Lot of weirdos out there.
She is so well-known, with so much written, I thought, simple, dignified.
Indeed. Most people would not care if there was a dead celeb profile on Wikitree for that reason.
+7 votes
Write a sweet letter saying how you love their Pops, you love their Foundation, you love their work, you love their site.  And of course they may rest assured you have no intention of infringing their rights in any way.

Without entering into any discussion of what their rights might or might not be.

And hide this thread.
by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (641k points)
I can't lie. We only picked him because he's buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

smiley He's a damn fine sax player tho! And all that jazz....

Trumpet players don't think much of sax players. Trumpeters can hit and hold the high notes. You never hear the National Anthem in sax. In trumpet, oh yeah, sweet
"All that jazz". Wow, Natalie. XD Even I wouldn't make a pun that bad!!

But trumpet rarely serves to set a certain mood for lovin'! Sax owns that. (And don't anyone even say "Kenny G." PLEASE.) cheeky

My h.s. boyfriend was a trumpet player (2nd chair, after his best friend, which annoyed the bejesus out of him) but I married a drummer! 

Kenny G ? Everybody knows the best for romance etc is Nat King Cole with violin and soft piano.

I disagree! I like no singing, no matter how pretty the voice, for romance music. I don't want any competitition for attention.

But Nat King soothing on the ears. He was magic.
Two words. Barry. White.

ROFL, Chris, my BW imitation used to irritate my wife no end.  Almost as much as me saying Lou Rawls sounds exactly the same.  devil

Oh both of those men had sexy voices too!
Johnny Mathis is the one who makes me weak in the knees.
+5 votes
She's kin to him? How much do you care (on principle or otherwise)? How much grief are you willing to put up with? Is it important to you to defer to a family member? Laura Bozzay's answer is on the right path. If you want to proceed, research the publicity/image rights of dead celebrities. I very much doubt anyone could interfere with a profile limited to publicly available facts. Editorializing or anything that could be interpreted as exploiting the name or image is murkier.
by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 8 (85.2k points)
Right on. Use the basics and source.
+4 votes
by Natalie Trott G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+9 votes

As others have said, there is no such thing as a webmaster for the whole internet for things pertaining to a deceased person (or for anything else). There are only webmasters for particular websites.

That said, the legal position may be a little complex. It probably strays into the area of “personality rights”, where the law varies from country to country and, within the US, from State to State, and which often go wider than commercial exploitation of someone’s name and, in particular, can extend to reputational issues. Personality rights can extend beyond death and in many civil law countries relatives can sue if they think a dead relative’s reputation is being damaged by what someone has published. There may be more specific rights which the estate has in law. My own interpretation of the law is that a Wikitree profile of a deceased person confined to bare, publicly available facts ought to be ok in all jurisdictions, provided those facts do not reveal information relating to living persons. But I am no expert in this area of law.

There is a Wikipedia article on personality rights at

Again, as others have observed, what the law allows you to put on Wikitree is one thing. What is sensible to put on Wikitree may be another if you do not want to have a lot of hassle either for yourself or for Wikitree management.

I note not just the absence of a Wikipedia article but also the fairly limited results that you get with a web search, given what I would expect for someone of his musical status.

by Michael Cayley G2G6 Pilot (235k points)
+6 votes
Eddie, about the only thing you can't do is use of his music or photographs from any television shows or movies he may have been in.  Also, they may have a copyright on his image, which is permissible under Federal Copyright Law.  But under Fair Use Doctrine for use of Copyrighted materials, a photo from a newspaper or magazine may be printed for the reasons Carolyn stated.

If the records you had on him were from Public Records, then they are fair game.  Someone's birth day is not copyrightable, nor is the address they lived in when they were 3 years old.  If it came from Public Records, go right ahead and use it.

To be on the safe side, I would not set his Profile to Open again when you bring it back.  A Public Privacy would do to keep anyone from joining WikiTree and messing with it.  Please let it be known I am not pointing out anyone or group, I'm just saying someone.

And I would include the url of that site too so they still get folks going there as well....if they want to.
by LJ Russell G2G6 Pilot (220k points)
+3 votes
Let us know the outcome, please!
by Natalie Trott G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)

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