Copyright applies to genealogy, too.

Have you read a good book or article lately on the history of a certain locality? Maybe your good friend Annabelle shared several of the recipes she drafted based on her years of cooking things everyone loves to eat. Did you just attend a genealogy seminar or conference and found the handout especially helpful?

So, you want to write an article about the history of that locality and decide that the author already wrote it the way you would want to do it. You just “share” those pages in your genealogical society’s publication and your name is listed as the author of the article because you added a few things. You cook a prize-winning apple pie based on Annabelle’s recipe and share the recipe and receive $500 for “your” recipe. Oops.

Another scenario might be that you heard a speaker and loved their PowerPoint slides and handouts/syllabus material. At the end of the seminar or conference, you decide to use those handouts in the classes you teach because they are better than those you have composed. Maybe you even asked the speaker for permission to use them.

In all these cases, it’s not your material. It’s not your many years of research, time, writing, checking out websites, and the associated expenses. It’s not your trips to archives, courthouses, or the hours upon hours of verifying website links that you verified just two months before when you last gave that lecture. It’s not your testing and retesting of the apple pie recipe that grew into the excellent product.

If you don’t have enough experience or education to compile your own material, article, book, or website, then you probably shouldn’t be doing that writing or teaching. If you don’t know enough about original documents at the courthouse, state or national archives, or how to put that knowledge together, then you need more experience.

I heard a lecture about 25 years ago and was intrigued by the topic. I began to research more about it at my state archives here in Minnesota. I read scholarly articles in historical periodicals. I researched in the applicable record group at the National Archives. At one point I realized I had more info from original material of the time period than that speaker had shared. Of course, it was only one handout and one-hour lecture but I knew that my work had reached depths beyond what this person knew. I had been working in original papers that hadn’t been touched since being archived almost 50 years previously.Then and only then did I craft my lecture and handout which have undergone numerous updates due to continuing research.

If you wish to share something with another genealogist, don’t just “take” what others have compiled. Do your own research. If you think that what that other person compiled is vital to others, don’t just copy. Promote that person’s lecture, book, or article. Have a blog? Quote a couple sentences and then give a live link to the website or place to purchase the item. Don’t pretend these are your thoughts. Give that other person the credit. That wonderful family tree you found online? Ask the author if you may abstract some information and share what you have with that person. Just copying that online or otherwise published tree might cause you problems if that author didn’t do careful research or cite their sources.

Your own creations are yours. The creations of others are theirs. It’s simple. Don’t take things from other folks. Copyright protection is already there once something original is created. Do you want someone coming into your home and taking your wedding or baby album? Do you want someone taking your family tree and posting it as if they had compiled it? Do you want another website sharing what has taken you years to put together? Sharing is great. It’s a part of being a family historian. But it’s still stealing if you take something that isn’t yours. I am grateful to everyone whose work has ended up helping me in my searching. That’s as far as it goes, though. It’s still their work.

This is my last post for 2012. I hope 2013 give me more fodder for positive posts. There is so much good in our field of family history.

© 2012 – 2014, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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