Copyright Fundamentals for Genealogy

A lost Exit78 post, recovered from Internet Archive WayBackMachine; March 2011

by Mike Goad

Article originally published 7/29/2003

This article is available for free distribution and reprint as a public service from the author. Please read conditions at the end of the article.

Since genealogical research inevitably involves copying of information, questions involving copyright often crop up. When an answer is given, it may be less than satisfactory. Sometimes the answer is wrong, sometimes there is little or no explanation, and sometimes the answer isn’t an answer, but a policy statement. In other instances, the answer is right, but it isn’t what the questioner wanted to hear.

While copyright can be very complex and confusing, the parts of copyright law that usually apply to genealogy are really pretty basic. There are a few fundamentals that can help deal with just about any genealogy copyright situation.

Copyright means copy right

Literally, the term copyright means the right to make copies of some product. By law, the right belongs to its creator. In copyright law, the product that’s copyrighted is referred to as a “work” and the creator of the work is its author. From that, we can say:

Making a copy of a work or a portion of a work is its author’s copy right.

In the U.S., the right to make a copy of a protected work is a constitutional, exclusive right of the work’s author, except that some limited copying is allowed by provisions of the copyright law. (see fair use)

Is it copyrighted?

If it’s created today by the original expression of the author and it can be viewed or copied, then it is protected under copyright. The law says:

    Copyright protection subsists… in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

(continued at Copy Right, Copy Sense)

ancestry, copyright, genealogy, Uncategorized

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