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Genealogists are voracious consumers of information. We also have a need to pass that information on in the form of our genealogical findings, and a concommittant need to show where we got our information from. (That latter need is often ignored by many genealogists, often making it difficult to figure out how they figured something out.)

Sometimes we would like to include our information sources within our articles on the Wiki. We may want to include transciptions of wills, marriage records, or portions of certain publications that relate to our ancestors. That raises questions of copyright. Here are some specific questions that I'd like to know the answers to

1. If someone prepares a compilation of wills for a particular county, and that information is posted on the net, can you extract a particular will from that electronic source, and place it in an article you have prepared about your great great grandfather?
2. If you want to show the lay of the land for the location where your great great grandfather lived,
Can you insert a map from GoogleMaps, or say Topozone?
Can you take one of their maps, modify it to meet your needs, and post it into an article?
Does modifying such a map make it independent of any copyright that Google (for example) might have?
In the case of USGS maps, since these are government property, does Google have any right to restrict your use of these maps, even if you immediate source is Google?
3. If Ancestry, or GoogleBooks, prepares an electronic copy of a work now out of copyright, can you copy portions of that elctronic version of the work into an article? Is it copyright protected?
4. When the USGenWeb, or other genealogical sites post an item on one of its county pages, an uncopyrighted will for example, it includes a statement about how you may use the item, and what you have to do if you want to place it on another site. They often say something like "you have to secure permission from the person who transcribed this from the original".
Are you so required?
Does their "publication" of the will renew its copyright?
Was it ever in copyright in the first place?

Inquiring minds want to know. Bill 18:46, 9 April 2007 (UTC)

Some answersEdit

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but recommendations based upon having studied the issues. Here are some articles about copyrights that may prove enlightinging

A1: In theory the will and testament is copyright by the person who wrote it. However, many municipalities make legal documents public domain. Material written before about 1912 (95 years from publication) is no longer in copyright, but later than that is questionable.

People who create a collection of existing material may claim a compilation copyright. The fact that they've organized a set of material is a specific fashion is under their copyright even if the material isn't. As long as you can document the copied material isn't under the compilation copyright (i.e. any of the text added by the compiler, layout, organization, etc). you should be able to copy the material.

I would put a warning on this because some people may feel that since it's ok to copy parts of a document or website, it's ok to copy the entire thing.

A2: The map data Google Maps provides must be used under their Terms of service, which clearly states you may not copy or create deriviative works. Wikia does have an GoogleMaps Extension which allow posting a Google map from Google inline to the page. So there is a way to post Google Maps legally and easily.

The answer to the USGS maps via Google is tricker. Google Maps is quite clear on the licence. But if you find a map (USGS or otherwise) via Google Image search, you may or may not be able to copy it depending upon the source.

USGS maps are public domian, but it is the responsibility of the person posting the map to this wiki to make sure they are posting a USGS map and not one derived (and copyrighted) by someone else.

A3: In theory this falls under the description of compilation copyright. They have organized other (public domain or not) works. If you can demonstrate the work being copied is public domain, then is should be OK.

A4: Again this, in theory, falls under the compilation copyright law. The fact that someone transcribed a will or other article does not grant them copyright to it.

In conclusion, while it is possible to publish public domain documents on the wiki, it is the responsibility of the poster to make sure what they are posting is, in fact, public domin material. If you find an article on another web site, the polite thing to do is ask permission to copy the information to wiki.

Tjoneslo 17:51, 17 April 2007 (UTC)


That's a pretty impressive answer from a non-lawyer. Thanks for all the links! Robin Patterson 01:59, 12 June 2007 (UTC)
Yes, Indeed. And I see that I failed to express my appreciation for the response. I do appreciate the insight given. Its very helpful. Bill 02:12, 12 June 2007 (UTC)

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