Yet again plagiarism and what to do

+17 votes
I cite this one as I'm PM (from a merge) but the other PM wasn't responsible for it, either. The entire article from HOP has been copied to Wikitree, which can hardly claim to be "fair use" or it's OK because it's attributed. HOP seems to have been a prime target for this as there are several other instances. Not only is it redundant, it's probably actionable. I've also encountered entire blurbs from descriptions of stately homes plonked onto profiles sometimes with little relevance. (A house built on a manor long after the person in the profile was dead etc). Entering into discussions every time this turns up could be quite exhausting. My inclination whenever I see it is to just remove it arbitrarily, but I don't. Respecting the work of others is what we do. But............
WikiTree profile: John Russell
asked ago in The Tree House by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
Mike, unfortunately we don't live in that utopian environment. I spent 30 years in an industry where intellectual property (the creation of artwork) and income derived from that was the sole source of income for many clients. Most of those people did not have a university chair to pay their bills and provide for their family. Some did, at some of the most significant universities, but I had not a one who did not protect his creation (which were explicitly not the property of the University as is the case some times in the sciences). I would absolutely and without hesitation enforce copyright infringement as it has every and very real potential to harm the income and livelihood of the creator.
This copyright / plagiarism discussion has gone on, and on, and on ,and on in Wikitree for many years. We have seen so called expert opinions galore. The fact is that rules differ from country to country which makes any defined answer impossible. Stay away from copying other peoples material in bulk; restrict yourself to quoting small excerpts from someone else's work and properly acknowledge the author when you do so. That should keep you out of trouble..
Yeah, I don't think Mike really understands the difference between plagiarism and copyright. Anything that's properly attributed isn't plagiarized by definition, so it's ridiculous to say that all information is plagiarism.
So, Mike, I guess you work for no salary or other compensation.  Nice.  The rest of us need to eat once in a while.  Research is actual work, just as engineering or driving trucks or whatever, and needs to be respected.
So, let's be CLEAR about this .....The University DID pay my salary of course, and in so doing PUCHASED any "inventions", whether physical or intellectual, that I produced. It was part of the contract.... They thereby earned the perogative to use the "product" in any way that they wished. I SOLD them the rights of use... If there had been no salary involved, and I had GIVEN the "product" to the Uni, the same rule would have applied.... If they then "sold on" that "Property", whether to Business, Government, or Military, they, and I, forefited any further rites to the "Property"... Similarly, if they "gave" the Property away by placing it the "Public Domain"... i.e. by Publication (the clue is in the name..!!) they no longer had any rights of ownership. The current "owner" has bought/inherited the right to publish or NOT to publish...... If you deny the "Purchaser" the right to use as they see fit, you are guilty of running a "Retrictive Practice" (as some Countries still try to do..!!) .... "The Law" may have a different (illogical) take on this ... depending on where you live, and which oppressive regime you have to exist under.

Incidentally .... When was the last time that you tried to Patent something that is already in the Public Domain..? ....One of my colleagues did ... and was given a flat refusal, because he had already "published" ..... which is ample proof that the "Public Domain" does exist, and that the Public has rights within it.....

For those that need to RE-READ my original post .... "All information is A RESULT of "Plagiarism""......and maybe to rethink their response.... It should be patently obvious (please excuse the pun!) that reference was not being made to so called "Property Rights" .... ALL "information" (apart from new invention) has been passed down over the ages from generation to generation by repetition... MOSTLY without proper citation.!!..... e.g.  Does anyone even know (or care) who "invented" Mathematical Tables .... or even The English Language ...... Before anyone points out the obvious ......YES ... it would be TOTALLY RIDICULOUS to have to cite references for every action that we undertake ....... Q.E.D.
Mike, you're confusing your opinion for the rule of law.  Publishing something into the public domain doesn't take away the writer's ownership of said work.  You seem to be confusing your surrender of your ownership of intellectual rights under your contract to somehow mean that it is OK to STEAL from others who haven't surrendered their rights.  

But at the same time, you've advocated theft and trying to justify it under some regressive idea of "restrictive practice" (read: marxism).

And in a third argument, you seem to be confused with published intellectual property still under patent or copyright versus items of public domain.  The two are not the same.  One is theft, the other isn't.  One is illegal, the other isn't.

Edit to add: I wouldn't usually engage in a debate like this HERE as it isn't productive to genealogy.  However, you're advocating for theft and in doing so, encouraging new Wikitreers to do the same.  This is bad for Wikitree and the community.  And so, I, like others, are pretty adamant about our position on this issue.  If you want to advocate for intellectual theft, I suggest you take it to Reddit or a similar website. has an excellent overview of FAIR USE, it's meaning, and application.  Wikitreers might give it a peek, if they have time.  There seems to be a lot of hand-wringing over this; that's understandable, but I think it's helpful to get the big picture.  You might come away with a view somewhat different than that you went in with.

It's impossible for this author to pour all of the good information on into one (bitter?) pill, but the essence, I think, is this:  so much depends upon the red wheel barrow, glazed with rain water beside the white chickens (William Carlos Williams.)  In other words, I have just published, without permission, the entirety of this classic poem, and done so without fear of any lawsuit.  FAIR USE allows me to use this poem in a creative, value-added way, to make a point, to parody, and to educate - to a point.  If I published Mr. William's entire work, or claimed it as mine own, or tried to profit from it, etc. then a judge might think it unfair use.  In short, some use is fair, some not, and there is "no formula," at least according to The trick is knowing the difference between right and wrong.
Patent and copyright are totally different things. Patents aren't really relevant here.

The thing about plagiarism is it hinges on originality as well as citation. Of course, there's a lot of fuzziness to the idea, but in practice most people who work in academics and research know what's original enough to require citation and what isn't, but long direct quotations always contain enough original expression to require citation.
Ha!  What is relevant then?   I.P. is I.P.  The important thing is respect for other's work, whether it involves ideas made into things or ideas alone, not whether it's "original."
Fair Use is a US doctrine, and HOP is British, so one should be rather careful about extending the rather general US Fair Use doctrine internationally. The UK has a "fair dealing" exception to copyright that has a similar force, but it tends to be more limited and specific. In this case, I think there are two big problems with using it, the first being the completeness (especially important in Fair Use) and the second bring that it's not being used in commentary or as parody. It's exactly intended to duplicate the utility of the text on the original website. You can post as many links to as you want, but I don't think anyone who knows anything about it is reasonably going to see that as either fair use or fair dealing.

4 Answers

+5 votes
Job done but check out the father. Same problem. I'd love to find out more about his row with the in-laws. Note that Tudor place is cited and that's a copy of HOP as well.
answered ago by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
+4 votes

Since this thread went up I am alarmed at the amount of plagiarism I have found. This morning I found John Horton (1762-1742) with a "notes" section lifted straight out of a copyright work by the profile creator (had to go through every single edit to find it was the original profile creator). The work is attributed and the use exceeds any fair use measure. In this case all I can conclude is the profile creator was ignorant.

Beyond the intellectual theft involved, this kind of profile bio leaves everyone wondering about the sourcing. Was it good? Was it bad? Was there any sourcing? (There are so many published works with virtually no sourcing.)

I wonder if we don't need a Ranger team targeted at this issue? Or perhaps it is already in place.

At some point WikiTree will be hit with a suit by somebody claiming infringement who thinks WikiTree can pay them something. It would be good to have a system addressing the issue before that occurs.

answered ago by T Stanton G2G6 Mach 1 (17.5k points)
+6 votes
Seems to me that the first time Wikitree is hit with a law suit it will fold. Can't see many of us stumping up £100 to pay a fine or whatever. Perhaps we could have a category "copyright issue" so that we can assess just how big the problem is. I know I often just pass on when I see it with a muttered "Why does anyone do that? It's a waste of space anyway when the article is just a click away." Pictures are even worse. We are asked to account for why the image is copyright free. Hardly anyone does. Made this an answer because I reckon it would be good if more people chipped in.
answered ago by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
I totally agree with you C. The intellectual theft on Wikitree is rampant. A category of 'copyright issue' is a good idea. Why can't Wikitreers add a link to the article rather than copy it, as you say it is just a click away. Copying the work of others lowers Wikitree's credibility and integrity.
Hear, hear!
Any way we could enlighten the copyright issues at WT gets my support.

Especially important with the upcoming Scan-a-Thon in January, perhaps some kind of informational series of posts or help-sections should be highlighted as a preparation for that?
We've got George Churchill above noting this discussion has gone on at WT for years. Agreed, the law changes from country to country but most all of them (with one very big exception) are more similar than dissimilar.

Good thoughts in this thread started by C Mackinnon. I think ignorance is a big part of this as is the belief held by the majority under a certain age that since they found it on the Internet it is free to use and abuse. Copyright should be prominently addressed in new member information along with what is and isn't a credible source.
I'm all for the free flow of information regardless of anything else. Also I am concerned about the litigation generation who seem to want a freebie every time someone looks sideways at them. You sound like the sort of person that would sue thier own mother if you bumped your head in her house.

Most people usually put up links to another webpage that might contain useful information regarding their ancestors for future descendants to reference, that's what I do, but if someone copies and pastes then I'm sure it's done innocently.

You'd be a real Scrooge to sue a  '.org' as it is community based and non for profit.

Why don't you go and sue and see how you go over there as I have seen the same. Good luck with that one.
First, WikiTree isn't a .org and isn't a non-profit organization although it functions like one.

Second, while copying might be an innocent act, it also means that someone did not really read and understand the Honor Code that was signed to become a WT Genealogist.

 Finally, I don't see anyone advocating for suing, just protecting WT from law suits.

Everyone should re-read the Honor Code periodically since it is easy to forget details. It is essentially a contract that you agreed to as the terms for use of WikiTree.

@ Mark Hutchinson

 I absolutely agree with Doug and C Mackinnon who are worried about the risks to wikitree. rather than being of a 'generation' that wants to sue. (probably quite the opposite!). 

Intellectual copyright is important. The fact that HOP mentioned above  is published online through a charity and allows free access to their biographies does not mean we are allowed to copy the text  ad libitum, They state clearly what is allowed to be used.  The copyright remains with the authors.

To avoid plagiarism, we have to take care to reference carefully  and to only summarise or quote small amounts, with appropriate attribution. To avoid copyright issues we need to refrain from cutting and pasting chunks for any works still in copyright in their country of origin.

International copyright varies, and as we are an international site we have to check and abide by the rules of individual countries . This is not, I admit easy. There are  different rules as to how long after publication or how long after the author's death applies. For example, I cannot always see texts digitised by Google books because they are not copyright in the US but  may still copyright in Europe Google books uses software to block my access..

Regulations even apply to photos of landmarks. (e.g. a tourist photo of the Louvre may not be admissable

Wikipedia is obviously concerned about this and has a whole set of rules. Maybe we should take a leaf from their book  and develop a policy

Intellectual copy right, I love that one, when in reality there is not much intellect to the permutation of words in a biography, the facts aren't owned, they belong to everybody. Basically we get sued over copying a layout word for word. Pathetic.
I too sometimes find copyright restrictions oppressive. 70 years after death of author usually means until the grandchildren are dead: that's quite a lot of protection. However it isn't my opinion that counts. What I do on my own account is up to me. What I do on behalf of Wikitree is a whole other matter. Why risk it? And, Mark, the order of words does matter. Listen to Churchill or Hitler. Read more Shakespeare or the King James Bible.
The big push to extend copyright protection to its current duration was spearheaded by Disney.

It was the decision of the EU to use 70 rather than 50 when they harmonised copyright  legislation .( Bit of 'trivia: UK excludes the book Peter Pan from this link  websit Plagiarism today.

+3 votes
I just the other day came across a dump of some sort - had been off on a whole different branch of my tree tending to merges and connecting with cousins and extending that branch - found some nice sources and all and I come back to the profiles in the New Netherland sector of my tree and a guy threw up a duplicate with a huge plagiarized hunk from somewhere - then  I see a not on the original profile indicating that it had previously held a big plagiarized hunk of something before!

So I guess I just initiate a merge and tell this new PM that that is not right - think he should know better jeeze - or do I get rid of it myself?
answered ago by Navarro Mariott G2G6 Mach 5 (59.5k points)
If I find any copyright material on any of my profiles, then I shall delete it. Hasn't happened yet.
I'm not copyrighted, but if I write a biography for a relative based on first hand knowledge and research, I don't mind being copied and pasted. I like it, because I don't want my biography's corrupted by someone else iether inadvertently or not.

I feel chuffed when I see my ancestors biography and consequently their stories being shared. That's what I am here for, I'm telling their stories for my future descendants. Any assistance is greatly appreciated, just stay true to my words and I'm happy, plagiarised or not.
But you don't have the right to dictate that for everyone else. 'I'm not copyrighted' doesn't make sense. Perhaps you mean you have withdrawn your copyright? But how would anyone else know?

Personally I object strongly to breaches of my copyright, words or photos. I'm happy to provide researched facts for people to use, but that is very different.
Martin, by not copyrighted, I mean that I'm not a published author, but I do realise that I am a published author of sorts when I post something on the internet. However, as I don't derive any income from writing professionally, certainly not on wikitree, I don't have a problem with being plagiarised if all that happens is that my ancestors story is told accurately. I am more unhappy if someone else changes my words in a way that I don't like, as I only write biography's of people such as my grandparents as I have the best first hand knowledge of their lives. If I don't do a biography I'll use links. In Australia I think most litigation is centred around lose of income above other considerations, although I am not a lawyer nor have I sued anyone.

Having said what I have about wikitree, I have received royalties for music and lyrics I have written that have been copyrighted works. If someone were to breach my copyright and I could show loss of earnings as a result of this breach, then I could sue them. If someone performs or reproduces these works then I receive royalties from them. In Australia I also get royalties paid to me out of a royalties fund for performing my own music publicly, the venues have to pay into the fund on behalf of their punters hearing live copyrighted music even when it is being performed by the owner. The listener always pays even if they aren't aware of it.

So my points of view revolve around loss of income. It seems like the main gripe in this thread are to do with ethical issues. And that's fair enough for me if that's the way you feel.

The only big problem I have with ancestry type websites is that a photo of my great grandfather Richard Forrest has been lifted, it is a portrait photo of him wearing his Aussie WW1 issued slouch hat, a very iconic and proud thing to us Aussie's, well that image has been lifted from his Australian Army records. Obviously someone else has an ancestor with the same name and despite whether their relative went to WW1 or not, they think he did and have attached themselves to my great grandfathers record believing it's their Richard Forrest.

Eventually, I will join that particular site and my plan is to let them get emotionally attached to the image, and its a very iconic image of a very handsome family man who never came home, and then present their family with my grandfather's entry in a book called 'the 849' about the 849 men killed in WW1 that never returned to their home town of Fremantle where I still live. His entry is basically a professionally penned biography combining his war records and information and family photos supplied by me. The portrait photo was supplied by army with his records, it's sort of like his WW1 mug shot.

I use a link to this very same biography because the author has loaded a digital version of the book online.

I plan to post this link which includes said photo plus other family portraits combined with his biography which includes both his families story and his war records all in one undeniable package, post that on the other Richard Forrest's profile, and without prior written notice or warning they loose the image of their Richard Forrest and any emotional attachment is unceremonially torn from their hearts, as this link is undeniable evidence of who Richard Forrest and his family were, from his birth to his death.

Geez I sound like a psycho, it must be from that royal dna I ironically inherited from both Richard Forrest and his wife Lyla Leyshon, probably Lyla as her line runs through Scotland and the black Douglas James Douglas etc.

Maybe I should just invite them to a family dinner ..
I agree that there is a largely ethical issue here.

But the money question is perhaps more important. Ancestry and others invest money to create their databases and images. It is quite unacceptable when those appear on Wikitree.
Mark, about the photo being lifted. That is quite rampant on Ancestry trees. A few people have a photograph of my 3greats grandfather as a young man  on their trees. Duncan died in 1825 as a relatively old man. I have no idea who the person the photo is for but it can't be the person they have it on. They also claim to have his signature but it is from a modern file folder at the US National Archives on his supposed naturalization. He lived in Canada. Can't get corrections because people hold on to their cherished beliefs and they "know better".

Martin, ethics is the bigger issue, isn't it?

Not if we are talking about people being sued.
What I meant was that if people understood the ethics then the other issue wouldn't come up.
Fair enough.

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