Help:Copying Text

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As a general rule, do not copy-and-paste content you find on another website, even if you believe it's not copyrighted.

Instead of copying text:

  • Summarize the key points.
  • When quoting small amounts of relevant text, use quotation marks.
  • Cite the source of the content.
  • Link to the web page that has the full text.


Even public domain content may be unlawful to copy

Public domain content is generally defined as material that is not copyrighted. It is either:

  • not eligible for copyright in the first place, or
  • copyright has expired, or
  • the copyright holder has released the material into the public domain.[1]

However, it may not be permissible to copy public domain content that you find on another website. The organization or presentation of the content may be copyrighted. Moreover, many websites have Terms of Service that prohibit copying.

Ethical issues and plagiarism

Copyrights and legal issues aside, our community's Honor Code includes:

VII. We give credit. Although most genealogy isn't copyrighted, researchers deserve credit for the work they've done.
VIII. We cite sources. Without sources we can't objectively resolve conflicting information.

It is never acceptable to present the work of someone else without giving them credit. It's best if this takes the form of formal source citations.

The value of original content

There are many style and policy reasons for our community to want to present original biographies, not simply copied text.

For example, as Rob Ton wrote in G2G,[2] "Writing our own content necessitates reviewing the facts, and this gives an opportunity to look for errors and inconsistencies that have not been found before. Copy/pasting material can rob us of the opportunity for an additional review of the facts. Tying back to credibility, when material is copy/pasted en masse, it gives the impression that it has not been checked against other sources, whether it has or not."

Clean-up efforts

Community members are working together to clean-up old profiles that contain copied content. Many were created through the uploading of GEDCOMs containing people’s personal research notes and efforts. Some of these personal research notes include copy/pastes of large quantities of text which may or may not include source information.

One way to check if text is originally-crafted language written by the contributor or copy-and-pasted from elsewhere on the Internet is to search for it. Highlight a phrase, Ctrl-C or copy the text, then paste it into a search engine such as Google.

When a member is uncertain whether it's been copied, many contributors err on the side of the caution by rewriting and summarizing it.

  1. Wikipedia Contributors, “Wikipedia:Public Domain,”, accessed 11 Oct 2014. See also “Public Domain,” ibid.
  2. Rob Ton, “Should wikitree have a policy on copying public domain text?”, WikiTree G2G message board, 11 Oct 2014

See also:

This page was last modified 19:47, 8 October 2021. This page has been accessed 6,898 times.