While I was away on various summer vacations, I missed a major brouhaha in the online genealogical community. There have been many, many pixels spilled on this topic already, so I’ll try to be brief.
For those of you who don’t know, Ancestry.com is part of the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world. (Source: Wikipedia). Earlier this month, they cached (copied) entire web pages of genealogical content off the Internet and served them up as part of their “Internet Biographical Collection.” Initially, this content was available only to paying subscribers.
There was a major uproar, including accusations of intellectual property theft.
Ancestry.com quickly moved the collection to a section that required registration for access, but no fees were necessary to see the content. After continued criticisms, they pulled the “Internet Biographical Collection” entirely and apologized to the genealogical community.
If you missed the smackdown, Kimberly at genealogy.about.com has a nice summary, complete with links to posts by all the major players.
I kid you not.
Denise Olsen of Family Matters started her More Naughty Than Nice post thusly: “Becky, thank you for including me as a nominee for the Nice Matters award although if you saw the steam coming out my ears at the moment, you might want to reconsider. . .” Then she tagged me as nice. Thanks, Denise!
So, my friends. What have we learned from all of this?
1. Family history bloggers are are tech savvy, and they keep in touch with each other.
2. Just because someone gladly shares information for free on their website, it doesn’t mean you can skip the part where you ask permission before you copy entire pages of his or her work. That’s not just copyright law, that’s good ethics and good business.
3. Nice doesn’t mean you don’t fight back when you feel cheated. Family history bloggers are an extremely nice bunch of folks, (it’s true, they really are) but they do NOT take kindly to you publishing their content without asking first.
4. Companies like Ancestry will change policy (quickly, I might add!) and apologize when faced with such resounding criticism.
But wait! Did Ancestry.com violate copyright or not?
I spent several years in charge of clearing permissions for a major children’s publisher. Even that doesn’t make me an expert. Basically, I know enough about copyright to realize that I don’t know jack about copyright.
Fortunately, Craig Manson (of GeneaBlogie) threw his expertise into the ring. Craig wrote a multi-part series called “Did Ancestry Violate the Copyright Law?” He teaches Law and Public Policy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, and he is a member of the California Bar.
I highly recommend all of Craig’s posts about copyright.
P.S. I nominate Mary for a Nice Matters Award.