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!


Susan K said...

Technical robots.txt solution found. Funny post appended with geeky goodness. You're tech savvy and have a blogger.com site. Do they allow you to create any robots.txt-style settings to disallow certain bots?

Becky Wiseman said...

Miriam, although I love the Phend family, my surname is Wiseman, not Phend. . . and the link to my post goes to Janice's at Cow Hampshire ;-)

On the pages it picked up from my site, the images were not included - there was placeholders instead. I don't use a background image so I don't know if it would pick that up or not. Also, the pages from my site that were displayed in Ancestry were complete pages, not just the "home page".

Miriam Robbins said...

Oh, Becky, I'm sorry. I KNEW Phend wasn't your last name (you know that little voice in your head that tells you something's not quite right...well, it was getting drowned out by my multi-tasking!).

I think I've fixed all the errors.

Thanks for commenting!

Untangled Family Roots said...

Boy this sure has been a hot topic for all of us. I don't think my blog has gotten so much attention before. I'm not complaining, but man I wished it hadn't been over such a lousy rotten thing that some other site did....hmmmm Ancestry! I don't think they are ethical in this. I don't care what legal loop holes they find, and who ever said that everything legal was ethical anyway. Oh heck, don't get me started on lawyers next...lol. I bet they are setting around like drooling dogs waiting for someone to scream LAWSUIT over this. Okay I'll shut up and go to bed for a while. Maybe this will all blow over when I get back from my camping trip. Keep the fight going for me. I finally get to spend a few days with hubby and the kids camping. He hasn't been home in a month. woohoo. Okay....sleep.....shop...then camp.....You gals keep up the fight!


Janice said...


Thank you for the great article, and for the link back to mine. Whether the cached information being offered at Ancestry.com is text or graphics, they are still horrifying wrong to offer it to their customers. Even though by yesterday afternoon they'd made the database "free" they still have the cache of MY site and are not crediting or citing ME (and other site owners) as the source. Inherently by listing Ancestry.com as the source, they are claiming to own the copyright to it. Without a disclaimer specifically stating they do not own them, every moment the database exists, they are more than hijacking our personal property.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I'll have to follow up on this more when I get home. I'm still furious that my trees that I removed from rootsweb are a part of one world tree.

Janice said...


You need yet another update.


Miriam Robbins said...

A sincere thank you goes to all who commented. My lack of response was not from complacency, but was caused by my return to work to prepare for the school year.

Janice, I'm sorry I didn't update sooner; for some reason, your newest posts are getting fed to my Google Reader!

My post, "More on the Issue of the Internet Biographical Collection" is a further update on this matter.

Schelly Talalay Dardashti said...

Hi, Miriam,

Great post.

Tracing the Tribe also provided several postings on the issue.



It would be great if you'd list Tracing the Tribe in your blog list!

Best wishes,
Schelly Talalay Dardashti

Miriam Robbins said...

Schelly, thanks for the links to your posts. Unfortunately, with this narrower text column on this new layout, our readers can't see the full links. So I have provided clickable links here and here.

I have also provided a clickable link under Update #2 to your first post that was written on Wednesday the 29th, with other bloggers' posts that were written that day. AND I have added you to my blog roll (see right hand sidebar).

Thanks so much for letting me know about your posts, and please come back to visit anytime!