Thursday, August 15, 2013

TGF Message Board Discussions on GenealogyBank Copyright Issues

My email inbox has been humming with messages on the Transitional Genealogists Forum (TGF) message board recently - the messages concern the limitations that GenealogyBank places on users according to their Terms of Use.

Miriam Robbins started the discussion with her message Obituaries and Newspapers on 13 August 2013.  You can read the whole thread in the August 2013 archives.

Actually, Judy Russell's blog posts Looking at the News Sites and GenealogyBank Perissions Clarified were the seeds that caused this discussion to bloom into a significant issue over several days.

Jay Fonkert helped grow the discussion, saying:

"After a little checking, I can confirm that Genealogy Bank does not permit researchers to use their service for professional research -- that is, as I understand it, research done for a paying client. They go on to acknowledge that professional researchers may find it useful to use Genealogy Bank, but they 'request' that a researcher take out a separate subscription for each client he/she serves. They say that you can, then, 'provide them with documents and articles you discover on their behalf.'"

Why does GenealogyBank have these particular Terms of Use?  They say this:

"Even if (content is) otherwise in the public domain, NewsBank may have obtained access and a license to the content only by agreeing to certain terms and conditions regarding use of content contained in these Terms and Conditions that are required by the content providers."

Other messages discussed the nuances of the issue, including why GenealogyBank's Terms of Use say what they say, and some messages raised the issues of working for a not-for-profit organization and a government agency.  Some messages offered possible solutions, including:

John Yates said:  "If you want a copy for a client, click a box, add it to a shopping cart, whatever, and pay some reasonable amount for it. On the order of maybe several dollars. Professional genealogists will do that, and pass the cost along to the customer, and not "cheat". They are bound to be ethical. Many small charges would add up for the provider, and genealogists would not have to play silly end-around-run games and waste time (and money! time is money!)."

Judy Russell offered:  "I can tell you that, were I in your shoes, with a client who wouldn't  subscribe and give me the log-in info, I would fill out the account info in my own name for the client, as in "Judy G. Russell for John Smith." I might even code the client info, as in "Judy G. Russell for 2013-3."

I'd use my address, my phone, my credit card, etc. I would not provide any access info for that account to the client."

Another commenter noted that GenealogyBank does offer a monthly subscription rate that could be used to minimize costs to the client, and those costs could be included in the expenses paid by the client.

Both of the suggestions above are reasonable and helpful in my view.

If this topic interests you, please read the two Judy Russell articles and the entire message thread.  There are a lot of thoughtful comments, and also a disagreement between some of the commenters.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Jacqi Stevens said...

Randy, I am not a professional genealogist--nor do I play one on TV ;)

However, I can understand why such a topic generates so much frustrated discussion.

If a person has come from an academic background (and, after all, isn't that where the whole concept of "research" comes from?!) or has been trained in that discipline, that writer understands the liberties given in pursuing making one's point:

+ The writer makes an assertion (hypothesis, thesis, or whatever you want to call it), then writes a defense of that position.

+ In the body of that defense is usually found several supporting statements, often taken from the academic works of others, usually authorities.

+ When specific wordings from those older works are used in limited segments by the new writer, they are quoted and attributed to the originator of the statement.

That's what footnotes are for. They give readers a chance to go back to the source document and check it out to see for themselves if what the subsequent writer has said is correct.

Those footnotes also help notify other new researchers of the specifics of older works. End result: more people are now informed about that original study and may even purchase the original book or report, if it is available for sale.

That process is considered an academic license ("fair use") that so many of us in our culture have taken for granted. It is a liberty we have mutually consented to take--even though the original work was copyrighted material. It, in effect, points the way back to that original, groundbreaking study or observation.

Not so for those of us researching genealogy, if we wish to share a quote from a historic newspaper--if we just so happen to have found that newspaper column via one of the subscription services everyone is discussing.

The problem here is that it puts a bottleneck on the flow of information, which eventually creates a backflow for which roadblock the typical person will seek a work-around. Unfortunately, these very companies themselves seem only to provide untenable resolutions for this dilemma.

Granted, the individual user is not one who has the resources to fight monolithic "powers that be" in the name of fair use. But from all the signs of resentment sparked by bringing up such a topic, it's evident that we still live very much in a culture that still considers it a right to quote with proper attribution--no matter what story the online providers assert grants them otherwise.

Judy G. Russell, CG, CGL said...

Just one note of clarification because of the blog title. These are not COPYRIGHT issues. They are CONTRACT issues. Terms of use arise in the context of a contract between the website and its user. Copyright is law adopted by the Congress. The two may have similar constraints -- but contract law may impose much more stringent restrictions than copyright law requires.