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I'd love to share all my findings and not have to email them over and over again everytime I find a new cousin. There are sites like,, If you started a tree on a site like that but kept it private, can you upload documents and put in obituaries or is that still a violation of copyright law?

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Regarding your question on copyright laws.
If you derived documents from an archive then the archive holds the copyright. The only way you can copyright those documents is by copyrighting the research you have done to acquire them. If the documents in question are within a different language and you have gone to great lengths to translate them and transcribe them then the right is all yours to copyright the resultant data derived from your efforts as well as the research.

I've written a book regarding the genealogy of Juan Ponce de Leon His New and Revised Genealogy. The book is the result of over six years of researching that family clan. The research doesn't come from books that other authors have written because they are full of errors. The research I did and the digital copies of documents and reference documents I've downloaded from the Ministry of Culture Spain have been copyrighted by the Ministry. I've had to translate the documents from their courtesan and Humanistic Spanish to English and modern day Spanish. I sent a query to the Ministry of Culture asking them permission to include digital copies of the documents as well as the resource documents within my book. I received a response from them giving me the OK to do the latter since their archival data has been made public by Spanish law. I included that response in the book and sent it off to the US Office of Copyright.
I was informed by the US Copyright Office that I should receive my Copyright certificate within nine months and I could go ahead publishing the book now. If anyone copies the data from my book for genealogical purposes its OK, but if they include the data from my book in their book, magazine article or a Web page for profit they are in for a lawsuit.
You can go online to the US Copyright Office to learn more about Copyright Laws.....type ECO in your browser.

I hope this helps
I don't want to copyright anything or make a profit, I just want to share my findings with cousins in a simple convenient way like putting on one of those sites but keeping it private for just me and them. Thinking this way I wouldn't have to email same things when I find a new cousin, they could just see it all plus it would be preserved online too but some say just uploading online is considered publishing and I wanted that clarified. I've looked at the laws but nothing is black and white, very confusing. Even uploading old photos would be wrong because they were taken by a photographer and the photographer holds the copyright.
I'm not a lawyer, but only a person who has read the copyright law, read several articles on the web concerning this issue, and, even once, consulted an intellectual property (i.e., copyrights and trademark) lawyer and to me the law is pretty clear and, based on my discussion with the lawyer, substantially disagrees with what Ayesart (above) states. To be perfectly safe, consult a lawyer before you put anything not your own on any website, in any book, etc.

That said, I am sticking my neck out and giving my interpretation of the law. Again, check with your lawyer before taking my or anyone's word. At a minimum, consult

Please understand that a copyright not only protect someone's right to profits but also his/her intellectual right to use the document, picture, book, film, writing on a cocktail napkin or piece of toilet paper, etc. as he/she decides, so the fact that you do not intend to make money from the use of someone else's work is immaterial. You CANNOT use anyone else's work for any reason without their permission. A copyright applies to any kind of creation: book, film, radio or TV broadcast, web page, painting, musical composition, recording, etc., or any new technological way of "publishing."

As an individual, you may copy any copyrighted material ONCE as long as it is for your own use (so, students can do so in the preparation of a paper, for instance) but you may NOT give it to anyone else. Hence, you may NOT publish it on a website, even if it labeled private, restricted, etc. unless you have the author's permission to do so. You MAY, however, summarize your findings, as long as they do not go so far as to plagiarize the original, and you may tell your relative where he/she can find the original (web links, etc.) so that he/she may make his/her own copy.

Further, in direct contradiction to what Ayesart claims above, you may NOT re-copyright a document based on your research. If you draw new and unique conclusions from the document, you may copyright your new intellectual thought but the copyright for the original document remains with the original author. Similarly, you may not copyright information that has been determined to be in the public domain (i.e., censuses, etc.).

So why do and others seem to have copyrights on censuses and other public domain data. Because they have copyrights on the indexes and the digital presentations, not on the original data. The indexes are the result of new intellectual though (you can use the censuses at the National Archives, but you'll have to go through them page by page; ancestry came up with the index that lets you skip this stage and so is copyrighted by ancestry). Similarly, cannot copyright the census data, but they can, and do, copyright the picture they took of each page. You can use the data in any way you want since it is in the public domain, but you cannot put ancestry's picture on your website or in the book you are writing unless they say you can. Go to NARA and take your own pic of the page, if you want to publish a picture. You can then copyright your picture but you can't prohibit others from taking the same shot from their own cameras, nor can you prohibit their copyrights on their own pictures. Ditto, if you find a picture included in a book on Google books, don't put Googlebooks digital version on your web page. Instead, include the link to Googlebooks or track down the original and take your own picture.

So how long do copyrights last? Depends on when the original was created. If the original copyright was issued after 1978 (note, a copyright need not be registered but implicitly exists from the time the "author" created it), the copyright continues for 70 years beyond the creator's death. If it was created before 1978, the original copyright existed for 28 years and was then renewed for an additional 67 years--for a total of 95 years beyond the copyright date. When the copyright expires, the "document" enters into the public domain and you can use the original--not someone else's copy--as you wish.

By the way, you own the copyright on anything you originate--as long as it is original to you. That does not mean you can copyright data you find but means you must "write" something new--you may feel sometimes like an unpaid researcher, but that is all you are until you develop something new, a new book, a new theory, etc. Your family tree on Rootsweb, geneanet, or wherever is not copyrightable because, with enough digging, anyone can find the same data, but once you write your book that includes original thoughts or draws conclusions not published elsewhere, the copyright is yours!
Ok, that pretty much sums it up. I'm best not putting it online other than to list the source but no images of those source documents.
I was so hoping to make it easier to share with family but I guess they either have to find what I did or I gotta re email every time I find new family. *sigh*
@Tree-Chicago/Polish, If all you want is to transfer your findings and information,pictures,documents...etc just scan them all on your pc (if not already done) and make a .zip or .rar file.Put all this information in it with the .ged file of your family tree or the branch you want to share and send by e-mail or file sharing programs to your cousin.If you use file sharing make sure your zip or rar is locked with a password and when you finished sharing remove from shared files,so nobody else can get it!

Copyright or not,this is your family heritage and information were talking about!No copyright should stop you from sharing this information with other family members...The copyright is mostly for not making profit off of it or free distribution to millions of people.

I made full copies (paper and digital) for all my family members that wanted a copy for personal viewing, to compare with what they had or for security purposes (fire,flood,theft...).No money is being made,in fact its costing me money just to get most of this information from travels and making copies...

BTW: if we cant use our own family information,then how come sites like can sell us the use for that same info?What about the privacy of our own historical ID's?? Breach of privacy laws?

Insane...My only reason for filing the census is for my future generations to be able to view my records if they chose to, to research on me or if they lost the genealogical research we did,FOR FREE!!! But,I will make sure they get it and every little peace of info they could want on me! lol

As BillieBee said, be careful of family members sometimes...They could do more harm then good with that information! For better or worse, good luck

Follow this link and you will get finally understand the law as it is written:

It will answer all of your questions.

Rules of thumb to follow.

If you have old photographs that are over 100 years old you can upload them into your web page. Any copyright has expired so has the photographer.

If you are copying documents that aren't birth certificates but acoming from an archive you must ask permission to use them on your web page.

If you are copying coats of arms gathered from places that are online, you must write the web master to ask permission to use them. There have been lawsuits already arising from infringement.

If you are using anyone's work from a book, you can quote from the book but you can't plagerize their work verbatum.

That's it in a nut shell.

My advise to you is to be more clear and more detailed when asking a question.

Also don't share anything with anyone unless you want it online. I've shared some information and pictures with a relative and now it's all online. Most of it was researched by my mother who didn't want it online.



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