What are the general rules for copyright and contract issues with online content?

+11 votes

I have recently run into some questions and potential issues in regards to legality of using online content, specifically can you use images - like census records - from places like ancestry.com and attach them to my WikiTree? My understanding - here is a link to a good site http://www.pddoc.com/copyright/genealogy_copyright_fundamentals.htm - is that as long as you are reporting facts you run a very low risk of copyright infringement as you cannot copyright facts only the presentation of them. So that would mean to me that I would not want to make and post screenshots of Ancestry pages or data. I know you are able to download many of the records including census records but I would even hesitate to make these images part of a profile on WikiTree. I know public domain stuff you should not have problems with but - in my understanding - there is also contract law you have to deal with some if not all of these images. Basically I think the best rule of thumb from everything I found is that it is okay to report facts especially with appropriate source references but anything that is an image you should probably keep to yourself. Save to your computer as a record - that is allowed under the ancestry contract agreement and should not violate any copyrights, but as soon as you try to post it things get a little sticky so better safe than sorry, especially as I am sure ancestry would look at anything done on WikiTree as being "competition". So "Just the facts Ma'am" seems to be the safest route to follow.

Anyone else have any thoughts, comments, other information they have found? i am no expert just trying to help get to the bottom of this. I am really curious as to what others thoughts and experiences have been. I know there has be people better versed in copyright and contract law out there.

in Policy and Style by Living Chelton G2G6 (8.2k points)
edited by Ellen Smith

2 Answers

+4 votes

I find it helpful to check on the FAQs on a specific site to see if they state any specific rules about copyright or how their materials can and cannot be used or how it should be cited when used.  One example is Find A Grave that explains their policies for citing links and or photos.

If I still have doubts, such as for images on any site such as ancestry - sometimes I find it safer to include the 'facts' as you have stated, with the source listed -

and then attach the URL or link directly to the image rather than the image itself.  


by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (776k points)
0 votes
Depends on the site... I know you are not suppose to post Family Search documents onto another site... not even ancestry.. the problem is most of the sites will say no documents from other genealogical sites because they want to sell you a script to download them. So transcribing is usually the best... most times I just post an email address and willing to share copies with others.. I use a specific gmail account for this. Good Luck
by Robin Thurman G2G Crew (500 points)

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