What is copyright?

Started by Volodya Mozhenkov on Saturday, December 12, 2015


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12/12/2015 at 12:55 AM

Somebody has asked in another thread about copyright. I'm answering here, not to pollute that particular thread any further.

Copyright is the legal concept, where the original author is rewarded by having the monopoly to distribute some content.

Works that are not protected by copyright are called "public domain", and it is *not* the same thing as "can be found on google" or "published". In fact in regard to "published" in some cases they are actually the opposite.

But now, let's try to answer the question of when is the work copyrighted and how can one use something on Geni.

You can *definitely* use the following:
* Something that you have created yourself, without basing it on somebody else's work: A photo of your relatives (when you are the one taking the photo), A drawing of a person, when you draw it yourself (tracing a photograph is not the same thing as drawing something yourself).
* Something that is in public domain. In most countries laws about when the work in in PD are different, but here we should consider mostly US laws, laws of the country where the uploader resides, and laws in the country where something was produced. Normally it is best to consider all three, but that is a very difficult task. Let's concentrate on US laws for now. http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm has a good outline, to summarise here: In general the work is in PD 70 years after the authors death, if the author is not known (which is not the same as saying "I don't know who the author is" you must be able to show that author is really unknown) 120 years after publication. If you attempt to start a fictitious profile of Mickey Mouse, then all bets are off, WaltDisney will bribe politicians in order to extend their copyright forever, this wasn't tested in court, mostly because people aren't willing to risk it.
** Note that works done by US federal government are also in public domain... but works done *for* the federal government by somebody who is contracted but not employed are not.
* All free licences. You can use those under conditions of the licence. In that case it really depends upon the licence in question. CC0, WTFPL, and some others are pretty much the same as public domain.
* CC-NC, CC-ND, and some other licences allow distribution under some conditions. NC means non-commercial, and ND means no-derivatives. Please keep in mind that sometimes licences start conflicting. Let's say you have one photo that is NC and another that is under FAL (Free Art Licence), you can distribute them separately just fine, provided that you follow the demands of the licence. But there is no way for you to create a poster with family photos using both of those at the same time, because each one of them demands that you don't do what another one demands that you do.

Fair Use

This is a saviour for the cases where there cannot be another photo. You *are* allowed to use a low resolution photo or a portion of a document that is absolutely essential for educational purposes...


But if you want to use some photo and see that there's only one available, just ask the author, maybe they'll be willing to let you.

Private User
12/12/2015 at 3:25 AM

I am sorry, I cite documents that I upload to sources, just asking if it is necessary to upload them, and cite them in the about box only.

12/12/2015 at 4:43 PM

A lot of people think that the pictures they find on the internet is free to download and then publish as they see fit. But this is wrong. Most countries have copyright laws involving pictures, and in Norway, which is the country I know, everyone can download a picture to their own personal use but publishing it in any form, even to a local family-reunion, is not legal unless the photographer has been dead for 15 years or the publisher has been allowed to use the picture by the photographer or his/her heirs during the first 15 years after the photographers death. And this law is applicable to any and every picture.

Private User
12/12/2015 at 10:48 PM

I have been taught by Erica to use non copywrite photos and source them in the photos section. I am talking about say pictures of a census record.

12/12/2015 at 11:00 PM

If it's US census, then it's considered to be the work of the US federal government, and thus it is under public domain without having to wait for so long.

Also, don't forget, that you can take photos yourself. So get yourself a camera and plan a trip to all of your relatives, they'll probably be more than happy. This can also be a reason to ask them about all the details about their lives.

Don't forget, that we shouldn't only research the past, present is equally interesting, and future generations will be thankful to you. http://www.geni.com/projects/Long-future-genealogy/30128

12/13/2015 at 3:23 AM

Shaz genalogical documents (birth - marriage - death) from government repositories are not copyrighted. You can upload all you like.

12/13/2015 at 3:31 AM

I suppose I should try and be more specific & I'll just talk about USA, I'm sure it's similar for Australia.

In the beginning were the LDS missionaries going around the world microfilming everything they could. So, for example, early English baptism registers were filmed in their local parishes and a "master film" retained by the central office.

At some point the LDS microfilmers got the license from the US government to film & transcribe and offer for free to anyone the 1880 US Federal Census.

The LDS Genealogy library in Salt Lake City is, I believe, the largest ever.

Anyway - the issue with any of these records is not copyright, it's access and license.

Copyright is for original words & images, not facts. So let's say there's a blog, and I want to quote from it, I use "journalism rules" for the narrative, but the facts cannot be copyrighted. So can copy / paste them as I like.

12/13/2015 at 4:29 AM

Erica Howton's comments are correct. As long as we are talking about USA. I think that it's quite sad that Americans still forget that the world doesn't end at their boarders.

While facts cannot be copyrighted, there is such a thing as the "database right" which exists in much of European countries. This deals with the aggregation of facts. That is why you could copy entire telephone book word for word in the USA, because simple lists cannot be copyrighted (but you cannot photocopy the pages, because the arrangement of the text and structure can still have copyright); but if you try it in EU you'll likely find yourself in court, because they recognise that somebody took time to assemble the whole list.


12/13/2015 at 10:15 AM

Interesting distinction, thank you.

US City directories were published by private companies, and currently ancestry has the license for a collection of them. So I can use my membership in Ancestry to view & download these images, and I can upload / cite as I wish as long as I don't violate my terms of service with ancestry (that is, offer it for re sale).

Now if I had the very same printed directory and scanned it myself, I might find myself in trouble because they've licensed to ancestry.

There are many articles in journals etc, relevant to genealogy, which are copyrighted still, but may be viewed and snippets quoted from; JSTOR is the largest aggregator in this field. Academic licensing mostly, but now some are available as PDF files that can be downloaded / uploaded (as long as not resold).

Private User
12/13/2015 at 12:51 PM

Thanks Erica Howton

Private User
12/13/2015 at 2:31 PM

Erica - suggest you re-read Ancestry's Terms of Service.

Not only does it say (Revision as of March 17, 2015 - seen today): "Resale of a work or database or portion thereof is prohibited."
It also says "Online or other republication of Content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy."
" If you download or print a copy of the Content for personal use, you must retain all copyright and other proprietary notices contained therein"
"By agreeing to these Terms and Conditions, you agree to not reuse these images or documents except that you may reuse public domain images so long as you only use small portions of the images or documents for personal use. If you republish public domain images, you agree to credit the relevant Ancestry Website as the source of the digital image, unless additional specific restrictions apply. If you wish to republish more than a small portion of the images or documents from any of the Websites, you agree to obtain prior written permission from us."

Private User
12/13/2015 at 2:42 PM

Claimming rights does not mean that they legally have them

Private User
12/13/2015 at 2:59 PM

Websites have a (C) on the bottom, but some blogs just scrape the net for content and some also have "spinner" plugins to add uniqueness.

12/13/2015 at 6:29 PM

One important point: Facts can't be copyrighted.
Dates of birth, place of origin, the fact that some ancestor travelled by a certain ship on a certain date ..... these are not subject to copyright.
The words that express that fact may be - so if you want to repeat some fact, and be safe - *use your own words*.
Some jurisdictions protect a "compilation copyright" - that if someone collects a book of a million names and dates, the collection may hold copyright - so you can't copy the collection without permission - but the individual items still do not.

It is quite common for copyright statements to overreach and claim copyright on things they can't claim - in fact it's almost the rule, not the exception. It is also common for licensing terms (like the "by agreeing to these Terms.... quoted above) to restrict you much more than the simple copyrights on the items would allow. Sometimes these limits are enfoceable, sometimes not - but unless you are very rich and love paying lawyers, you may not want to find out.

But remember: Facts are not copyrightable.

Private User
12/13/2015 at 7:47 PM

Harald Tveit Alvestrand - Thank you - I think you said it well:
It is also common for licensing terms (like the "by agreeing to these Terms.... quoted above) to restrict you much more than the simple copyrights on the items would allow. Sometimes these limits are enforceable, sometimes not - but unless you are very rich and love paying lawyers, you may not want to find out.

I would only also add - you are risking being able to keep using a site if you violate their terms. And if you view yourself as a moral person who honors his/her promises, you also may perhaps want to think a bit before violating the terms you have agreed to.

12/13/2015 at 7:58 PM

Yes, of course I cite the licensor for any uploads. I'm probably ultra cautious. :)

Private User
12/15/2015 at 2:28 PM

Erica - it is not just no resale, and cite. It is also - only for personal use. If you are uploading them as a Public Document, how can you claim it as only for Personal Use?

12/19/2015 at 1:13 PM

Because I am the profile manager, and the tree is for my use. The "personal" phrasing means "not for resale," which is true: i am not reselling the document.

12/19/2015 at 1:15 PM

In other words, that a "for personal use" document is viewable publicly is not a violation of anything.

12/19/2015 at 1:54 PM

Erica Howton I'm pretty sure that the US court would disagree with you. Public broadcast and publication would undoubtedly not be covered under "personal use".

You could, however, try to claim that: 1) Facts are not copyrightable and 2) Educational use of small portions can be covered under Fair Use.

12/19/2015 at 4:44 PM

Geni is providing server space for my personal use. The materials i store there are not educational & not for resale; they're just personal. So I don't think I'd "win" on a education argument. Perhaps fair use?

12/19/2015 at 10:21 PM

I will not even comment on the misuse the of the term "server" in this case. But i would say that i would be very surprised if such a case would win (especially after the public admission that "they are not educational").

The statement "for my personal use" doesn't even pass the "giggle factor" test, i.e. being about to say it in the court room without people beginning to giggle. For example:
- So did you mark these profiles private?
- No, i've marked them public, because that's how i personally use them.
- Could you chose to use a different genealogy site or personal software, which would not publicly distribute the licenced data?
- Yes, i could, but i personally thought that everybody should be able to view and even change that data... you know for my personal use.

But as everything in the USA law the true answer is "how much money do you have and what would you like the decision to be".

12/19/2015 at 11:00 PM

Ah, very true. Which is why I'm not a copyright attorney:).

Census report images are licensed, not copyrighted, in the US. They have also always been available in print format in libraries etc. So it's not an issue I find particularly concerning.

Photographs and narrative are a different story.

<private> McCann
12/20/2015 at 5:43 AM

I agree with Volodya Mozhenkov about this country greed is a problem.. Money can buy things good and evil..

<private> McCann
12/20/2015 at 5:44 AM

Mostly on the evil side but still some good

Private User
12/20/2015 at 12:06 PM

Erica has her view, which she is totally allowed to have and to act on. Since she is probably not willing to pay any one else's attorney's fees, fines, or etc. -- others may want to take into consideration Volodya's comments and/or the
comment from another Curator - http://www.geni.com/discussions/144284?msg=993343 -- "Just read the terms for that pay site first. I doubt you are allowed to make that document public elsewhere, so make sure you set it as a private document."

Private User
12/20/2015 at 12:27 PM

Copyright claims is probably also the most misused claim, - claiming it does not mean that you have the rights to claim it.

An example: Billiongraves claims the rights to the photos you take with their app, - violating copyright rules in most countries in the world.

Private User
12/20/2015 at 12:49 PM

What you agree to under "Terms of Service" can be totally different from - and/or beyond - what comes under the category of copyright rules.

If you have explicitly given rights to Billiongraves - via accepting their Terms of Service -- then??
Do the copyright rules in most countries say you cannot give those rights away to some other person or entity?

12/20/2015 at 1:27 PM

Lois I agree with Bjørn's comment: read the terms of the site.

I see nothing on Ancestry's terms of service preventing me from downloading a document, and they allow it in their software usage.

The intellectual property wars in the US are not waged around census images, they are (rightly) around artistic output. And that's where the energy should be directed.

12/20/2015 at 1:32 PM

... By the way, I didn't read Volodya's comments as addressing that I set census documents to public. He was simply mocking my argument if I'm taken to court. Of which i have heard of no such case since the US census was first published in 1790.

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