Thursday, May 16, 2013


I have written about copyright three times:

Yet another professional genealogist  has posted on Facebook that her stuff has been copied without any citation or permission.  Actually, copied isn’t the right term, STOLEN is.  This goes way beyond copyright law.  It is a matter of ethics.  No matter what the law says, this sort if thing is just ethically wrong.  What bothers me the most is that this is going on in the world of PROFESSIONAL genealogists, people that know better.  I can easily forgive (and educate) someone that does this out of ignorance but I have a much harder time forgiving someone who does it knowingly for personal gain.

If you didn’t write it, it doesn’t belong to you.  You can quote or paraphrase small portions as long as you credit the author.  If you want to use a larger portion you will also need to obtain permission.  I think that is pretty straight forward and simple and I know that the readers of this blog already know this.  Like I said, the person in the above example was a professional genealogist knowing taking material from another professional genealogist.  I have a really hard time understanding that.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Michele, if you want to talk ethics, then you need to talk to the real people who are misusing the copyright rules......Da Dum! ANCESTRY.COM! They started twenty years ago, and they've not been a good example for anybody to follow. They took my research and published it without my permission or my name.

  2. Plagiarism. Intellectual theft. As a composition specialist, I can understand your feelings. In many cases, like college freshmen, it's just laziness, plain and simple. Speaking for students who have passed through my doors, I can say that they have been taught differently, but often exercise the "catch me if you can" method. On the other hand, as a specialist in rhetoric, linguistics, and teaching English as a second language, the notion of plagiarism is culturally defined. In many cultures, knowledge belongs to the collective and not thought of as a personal possession. I would suggest that if someone plagiarizes your work and publishes it as their own, then challenge them. There must be some line of academic and professional integrity to uphold the profession or it will risk losing its credibility.

  3. Brownie... I have some issues with Michael Neill is the blogger that usually challenges I have posted a few things here and there but maybe I will devote a whole blog post one day :)

    Buttercup... Thanks for your comments. Cyndi Howell's of Cyndi's List is doing just that. She has a copyright case in federal court right now. She was a victim of clear copyright infringement.

  4. I am purely a novice at this, and I have a question...(I hope I don't sound too dumb!)
    When I do searches online and find information about my family, and save it to where I am doing my family tree, is that considered "stealing?" It's not to be published, just for family history purposes. Wasn't sure exactly what y'all are referring to in the case of copying/stealing.

  5. This isn't a dumb questions at all! FACTS are not protected under copyright. If someone states that Mary Doe was born on 04 May 1854 that is a fact. You can copy that with no problems at all, HOWEVER, there are four other things that you will want to consider. 1) You always need to cite your sources for every piece of information that you add. If you get information from someone's online tree than that online tree is your source. 2) You really should only be using online trees as a clue to lead you to the original source. For example, if someone's online tree has a marriage date you need to get a copy of the actual marriage license instead of just taking that person's word for it. 3) Whenever you find someone on an online tree that pertains to your family you really need to send that person a message/email introducing yourself. You will get much farther in genealogy if you collaborate with other researchers. Just copying things off of someone's tree without touching base with them is a bit rude. 4) Remember that FACTS are not covered under copyright but if someone has written some commentary or narrative about the person and it is posted online that IS covered under copyright.

    This is such a good question that it will appear on the blog next week (I am taking this week off). I might even expand my answer a bit so stay tuned.