As a researcher starts to gather a good deal information and branches to their family tree, they may wonder does all the work remain solely theirs and that no one else can copy it. In fact, is that family pedigree information covered by the United States and international copyright laws?
All public records, such as birth-marriage-divorce-death, court documents, cemetery records and headstones are classified as factual information and not copyrighted. If data was located on a microfilm, courthouse archives, state or federal census, military files, or databases (Rootsweb, GenWeb, World Family Tree Project) are also not copyrightable. Add with that list; news events, laws of nature, discoveries, concepts, all cannot be copyrighted.
Factual data is considered public domain, as if it were public property for anyone to have access to and use. Genealogy is focused on the gathering of facts, so this free use of data is very important for all researchers.
The exclusive use of some product or writing only by the author or owner and no one else without permission granted by the author is referred to as copyrighted. Facts cannot be copyrighted, only the way there are expressed and structured can be protected.
Copyright laws vary from country to country. However, most do protect the author's right to obtain commercial benefit from their work, plus protect of the author's general right to control how a work is utilized. Anything; writings, photos, drawings, etc., that is original, unique with some creative expression is copyrightable.
When a researcher takes gathered facts and vital records data and converts it into a more personalized written story, they have made an original expression and that is copyrighted. It becomes unique unlike anyone else’s work. Even if a researcher discovered some new, never known fact on an ancestor, it can be documented and reported, but it is not created.
One method a researcher sees that no one uses the data gathered is by not making it available to any other people. If it is not published on the Internet as a personal web site or submitted to community sites like; Ancestral File, GEDCOM, GENSOURCE, the World Family Tree Project, WorldConnect, Family Tree Maker or a GenWeb site; then it is safe from anyone using the facts. Also, it cannot be shared with family members. Once someone else has copies, there is no guarantee the information doesn’t get passed along. The flip side, is that it ca be fun sharing what has been learned and collected on an ancestor. By sharing, additional unknown information may be passed along.
Numerous family or surname Internet web pages exist with creative works along with photos and these are copyrightable. A good researcher discovering such sites will take time to email the site creator and request permission to use a certain portion. Anyone who publishes their information on the Internet is interested in sharing, just asking permission is all that is requested. Include that person’s name and site address as the source of the information.
Any genealogical work placed on a web site should include a disclaimer using the mark or symbol Ó (copyright), author’s name and date of creation as notice of copyright. The abbreviation "Copr" or “Copyright” along with the author’s name and date can be inserted at the end of the site.