Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ancestry.com: Copyright Violations?

(Updates to this issue appear at the bottom of this post.)

There's a bit of a hubbub in the genea-blogging world today, if you haven't noticed. Seems that Ancestry.com has spidered and cached many genealogy websites and blogs and posted excerpts of their content and thumbnails of their home pages to their Internet Biographical Collection database. And that has a lot of genea-bloggers (and possibly genealogy site webmasters) a bit upset. The content of many of those blogs and sites are covered by copyright, and are not to be quoted or copied in any manner by those who will profit from them, without permission. At first, it seems, this database was only available to those who had a subscription to Ancestry. It appears that later today, it was changed to a free database.

That may cover Ancestry legally for its use of content (text); but it may not cover it for its use of images. For instance, my website, also named AnceStories, was created with free background images. However, I had to obtain the image creators' permissions, in several cases, to use those graphics. The artists were very clear that those images could not be resized or reused in any way, for any purpose, without permission. So a thumbnail of my website's home page posted on another site could possibly be in violation of those terms of use, even if Ancestry doesn't profit from it.

This all seems a bit hard to swallow considering two things happening just in the past four months:
  • * Ancestry demanded that Michael John Neill remove the images of census, draft cards and ships manifest lists of famous people from his blog, saying it violated their licensing agreement (links here and here). Never mind that this was giving Ancestry great publicity--and more importantly--Michael had received previous staff's permission to do so.
  • * Ancestry threatened legal action against FreeOnAncestry.com (by the same creators of well-known genealogy website, Interment.net) saying they could not use the word "ancestry" as part of their URL. This site listed databases that were available for free on Ancestry, either permanently, or as a part of publicity "gimmicks," so to speak; i.e. military records databases around Veterans Day, or African-American databases during Black History month, etc. Again, the web owner had the previous staff's permission, and again, it was positive, free publicity for Ancestry; a great way to be notified of an opportunity to try out a free database and decide if you wanted to purchase a subscription.
I don't appreciate Ancestry's heavy-handedness in the two cases above. While they may be staying within the letter of the law, is it fair to the genealogical community, one that relies strongly upon the kindness and generosity of others--think Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, for instance-- to treat people this way? Is it fair, or ethical, or moral after these actions, to turn around and violate people's terms of use or skirt around possible copyright infringements? What do you think?

I first read about all this from Amy Crooks of Untangled Family Roots. She's been followed by Kimberly Powell of About.com Genealogy, Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire, Becky Wiseman of kinexxions, Chris Dunham of The Genealogue, and Randy Seaver of Genea-musings. I'll update this list as necessary.

By the way, Janice has a list of the blogs she's found in this cache, and I added to it in the comments.

UPDATE: (Tuesday, 28 Aug 2007) Susan Kitchens of Family Oral History Using Digital Tools has a hilarious parody of Ancestry's home page here. Be sure to scroll down to see an enlarged view of this graphic!

UPDATE #2: (Wednesday, 29 Aug 2007) Late last night and this morning I read with interest more bloggers' opinions on this subject: Jasia of Creative Gene, Dick Eastman of Eastman's Online Genealogical Newsletter, Denise Olson of Family Matters, Craig Manson of GeneaBlogie, Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian, Steve Danko of Steve's Genealogy's Blog, Bill West of West in New England all had interesting points to make, and not necessarily were all in agreement (which makes for a good and lively discussion, I think!). There may be more genea-bloggers out there who've made points on this hot topic, but these were all the ones that are on my Google Reader. If you or someone you know has blogged about this, please leave a comment or contact me (my e-mail address is listed in my profile; link in right-hand sidebar).

(Another blogger who posted on this topic on this day was Schelley
Talalay Dardashti from Tracing the Tribe.)

UPDATE #3 (The Storm Rages On): (Wednesday, 28 Aug 2007) For those of my readers who are not already genea-bloggers and thus may not have be aware of the lastest updates, here are additional posts on this hot topic written by some of the aforementioned bloggers: Kimberly Powell at About.com: Genealogy, Becky Wiseman at kinexxions; Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings; Amy Crooks at Untangled Family Roots; and Craig Manson of GeneaBlogie. It's also interesting to read the many comments posted by the readers of Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and Dick, himself, to his two posts, "The Generations Network Receives Patent for Correlating Genealogy Records" and "Internet Biographical Collection is Free at Ancestry.com". There are also many comments at Ancestry's blog, 24-7 Family History Circle on the post, "Internet Biographical Information is Free at Ancestry."

In addition, I found more on this topic at these posts: Jessica Oswalt at Jessica's Genejournal, Leland Meitzler of Genealogy Blog, and Pat Richley of DearMYRTLE: Your Friend in Genealogy. Ol' Myrt brings up a valid point about the "Numbers Game," that is definitely worth reading.

UPDATE #4 (Resolution...for the time being): (Wednesday, 29 Aug 2007) Ancestry.com has removed its Internet Biographical Collection, for now. See their 24-7 Family History Circle blog here (don't forget to read the comments).

The following genea-bloggers had their response as well. I encourage you to read them, because some of these contain interesting facts and intriguing analogies:
UPDATE #5 (More genea-bloggers weigh in): (Thursday, 30 Aug 2007) I found a few more responses to the IBD furor/removal this morning:
And you really should go over and read Tim Agazio's non-commentary on the situation, "So, What's New in the Genealogy World?" It's quite amusing.

Thank you to whomever informed me that I had a bad link to Becky Wiseman's kinexxions blog in yesterday's Update #4. Sheesh...she's gotten the brunt of my poor memory (I listed her as Becky Phend earlier this week) and spelling mistakes (thus the bad link) these last few days.

UPDATE #6: (Thursday, 30 Aug 2007) I forgot to add another response to the IBD issue this morning. Actually, there are two by GeneaBlogie author, Craig Manson, here and here. I read with interest that Craig, a law and public policy professor, has been having conversations about this matter with his colleagues, and will be posting a series on his blog about the legal issues involved. Stay tuned!
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