Monday, May 7, 2007

Posting record images from

Michael John Neill at had a superb set of census, World War I draft registrations, passenger manifests, and other records that showed famous people in the records. It was an excellent way to inform genealogy buffs of the available records, and plugged besides!

Now The Generations Network (TGN) has "requested" that he eliminate the images downloaded from Ancestry from his web site.

Michael's blog post says:

"The new marketing staff at The Generations Network made me remove the images we formerly hosted on this site. The phrases “legal action” and “hear from legal department” were used. The pages clearly contained links to Ancestry, indicated where the images had been obtained, and indicated the value a subscription had for the average person.

"Until I have time to view the NARA film myself and re-obtain the images they will not be posted on this site. "

If Michael had been posting the full image from the records, and had thousands of them on his site, I could understand the logic of this. But he was posting only fragments - usually just a few columns showing the names and ages of the family members, and not the whole page. Then he would provide a link to the full image. To my non-lawyerly eye, I would construe what he was doing as "fair use." They were snippets, much as most people do with text.

Would they have made the same request if he had transcribed the census entries and provided a source citation rather than the image? That is what most of us do in the normal course of our genealogy research - Michael just made it more fun to see the handwritten entry.

So will TGN come after all of the genealogists who put record images in their genealogy databases and then upload them to web pages or the social network or shared genealogy database sites? Or can they only be uploaded to sites that TGN operates?

We need some guidelines from The Generations Network, I think. How many images are too many? Even fragments and not whole pages? What if the images originate at another web site, like the newspaper images?

And will other commercial web sites do the same thing?

Is this hardball commercialism, or a big mental error on the part of TGN?

UPDATE 5/9 8 PM: I posted portions of the TGN Terms and Conditions for subscribers at My non-lawyerly opinion (FWIW) is that a subscriber can post images that pertain to their personal or professional research. However, we really need TGN to confirm this so that everybody understands the restrictions imposed by the T&Cs.


. said...

I chatted with one of Ancestry's representatives online about using similar snippets or images of parts of census records on our family association website. He copied and pasted vague parts of the user agreement to tell me it was against their policy, and that if I proceeded, my Ancestry account would be closed and there would be potential legal action. TGN isn't winning many friends these days!

Craig Manson said...

I think it's anther example of TGN shooting itself in the foot. Michael's use of the images promoted This is like their recent demand to close the website "," which clearly did nothing but steer folks to I understand the legal issues behind their moves, but they need work out some reasonable licensing agreements and soon. Otherwise they run the risk of being seen as just another corporate bully.

Erin said...

I completely agree with Craig and Dave. I also agree with you on fair use. I'm starting to think about talking to a lawyer friend of mine about that issue. I just can't understand how TGN can threaten these 2 sites that are aimed at trying to bring in more subscribers to ancestry! That doesn't make sense!

rfrobinson said...

I'd like to see some public comment or discussion on this issue from TGN.

wundercapo said...

I'm definitely not on TGN's side on this one.

However, knowing something about copyright law, I can say that copyright law isn't really at issue here. It's contract law (or a license agreement). When you signed up to use, you agreed to something that said you will only use images for personal research and won't put it up on the web.

The reason TGN needs to do this, is that their digital copies of public domain material do not have copyright protection. A faithful reproduction of something in the public domain without any creative addition is still in the public domain, just like thier images. (People take different sides on this issue, but I do have good reason for my position)

They get around that by the license agreement. The same thing is done by companies like Proquest, who digitize old newspapers.

Again, I don't support them at all, and think something like this could only increase their exposure.

wundercapo said...

One small clarification: Since what restricts one's use of their images is not copyright law, but a license agreement (contract law), one cannot use Fair Use as an exception in this case.

Anonymous said...

No one has mentioned that both the sites used affiliate links and were generating income from their relationship with I'm sure that their affiliate agreement included additional legal requirements that TGN could accuse them of violating.

Anonymous said...


Nora Nell said...

I know TGN has shot itself in the foot. They pulled their databases from all the LDS Church Family History Centers as of April 1st.

The new owners of don't seem to understand that many people who came to FHC's and used Ancestry there, would eventually go home and decided to purchase their own subscription.

Oh Well, that will be fixed in a few years. The LDS church is indexing all their 2+ million films containing over 8 billion names and records. Those will be put on the Internet at NO COST for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. We will be able to see the actual record on our computers. Once that happens, Bye-Bye Ancestry, or more to the point TGN.

Anonymous said...

The FHL is not any better, here is part of their contract going on their films:


I see a big problem for authors, professional genealogist & genealogy soc. that use their films.

mw395 said...

I think you should give FamilySearch a break! They aren't charging anyone to use their digital images. They firmly believe in free genealogy or they wouldn't even exist. So what if they ask you not to use their records except for personal use? By the way, the reason for this is that they made agreements with the archives the records came from initially and they're trying to keep from violating that so that they can continue to provide free genealogical serivces. Bottom line - At least you can do your genealogy and find your ancestors. FamilySearch really is trying to help. So, as I said, give them a break!

Anonymous said...

iUQGHZ The best blog you have!