Monday, August 1, 2016
The first society had included an article in its newsletter that I thought had useful information for the CSGA membership, so I wrote and asked for permission to reprint it. During the course of the discussion, the other editor realized the article was not original to the society and no attribution had been given to its author (much less had permission been requested to reprint it). An erratum is planned to correct the lack of attribution, but I doubt permission (albeit belated) will be requested, or an apology offered, for reprinting the article as it was.
The second society asked if I could reprint an article about the society that had been published by a newspaper. Permission had not been granted or even requested from the publisher. The person who made the request did not appear to realize that this permission needed to be sought. When I explained that I would not reprint the article without the permission, a request was sent to the publisher. That publisher requires nonprofits to pay $150 for permission to reprint an article. Needless to say, neither CSGA nor the society in question was prepared to pay that amount, and the article will not appear in the newsletter.
Unfortunately, neither of these situations is uncommon in genealogy today. Many people believe that “if it’s on the Internet it’s free”, and they can reuse those items at will. Others believe that as long as correct attribution is given, everything is fine. Neither of these beliefs is correct. Anyone who has written something has copyright to it, giving the author the exclusive right to determine if someone else may reprint that material. While most genealogists do not pursue anything against persons or organizations that have reused their materials (even though they can and sometimes should), commercial entities, such as the newspaper that published the article about the society in my second example above, often do. When genealogical editors and individuals republish copyrighted material without permission, they open themselves and their societies to possible legal action.
Coincidentally, at the fall CSGA Seminar, scheduled for October 29, 2016 in San Mateo and hosted by the San Mateo County Genealogical Society, one of the talks will be on copyright issues in genealogy. If you are unsure what you should be doing when you want to reuse someone else’s copyrighted material, or if you believe everything on the Internet is free to use, I recommend you come to the seminar. Details about the time and location of the seminar, which is free and open to the public, are available on the CSGA blog.
An excellent source of copyright information that is readily available night and day, and that is often geared specifically to genealogists, is the Legal Genealogist blog. Judy Russell writes a lot about copyright and wants everyone to know what they should be doing to share information but protect authors' rights.