Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Restrictions on use of content

After thinking about my two posts (here and here) about using content on the Internet, in publications or in presentations, I decided to see what the Terms and Conditions are:

For a personal subscriber (like me), the T&Cs include the following:

" contains graphics, information, data, editorial and other content accessible by any registered Internet user and similar content which is accessible only to our subscribing members “(the Content)”. Whether in the free section or in the subscription section of the Service, all Content is owned and/or copyrighted by, Inc., or third party providers and may be used only in accordance with this limited use license. is protected by copyright as a collective work and/or compilation, pursuant to U.S. copyright laws, international conventions, and other copyright laws.
"You are licensed to use the Content only for personal or professional family history research, and may download Content only as search results relevant to that research. The download of the whole or significant portions of any work or database is prohibited. Resale of a work or database or portion thereof, except as specific results relevant to specific research for an individual, is prohibited. Online or other republication of Content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy. Violation of this License may result in immediate termination of your membership and may result in legal action for injunction, damages or both. You may use access software provided on the Service only while on line and may not download, copy, reuse or distribute that software, except where it is clearly stated in connection with software that it is made available for offline use and a license for that use is provided in connection with that software."

If I read and interpret those words correctly, then I as an individual user can:

1) Download record images for my personal and professional use.

2) Use the image in a conference or society presentation (personal and/or professional use)

3) Use record images in a published book or magazine article as long as it is part of a "...unique family history or genealogy."

4) Use a record image on a web site if it is part of a "...unique family history or genealogy" - such as a family history web site, or a blog about my own research.

Some genealogy bloggers were posting census and other images of their personal and/or professional research - that is permissible if I read and interpret the TGN T&Cs correctly. It would be very helpful to have a very clear understanding of what we can and cannot do with record images downloaded from

An email from a correspondent noted that, since Michael John Neill was in the TGN Affiliate program, he would have to abide by the Terms and Conditions of that program also. The link to the Ancestry affiliate program doesn't provide information about those T&Cs at this time.

I only see the search box on Michael's web site, not any notice that he is a member of the Affiliate program. He does have Google ads on his page. Does that mean that he is (or was) making money from using the census and other images?

UPDATE 5/9, 8 PM: Added links to my earlier posts on this subject.

Please see the comments of these posts for further discussion and information.


Anonymous said...

I've removed my "family tree" gedcom from ancestry. I don't want them coming after me for using info I've submitted.

Quoted without permission!
By submitting your GEDCOM file to, you agree to the following:
Ancestry may reproduce, compile, and distribute, all information about non-living individuals in your submitted GEDCOM file.

Craig Manson said...

I think your interpretation of the Terms and Conditions is entirely reasonable, Randy.

Anonymous said...

This was a fascinating bit of information about Ancestry. It gives me another reason not to like them (besides the fact that I can't afford them). I do have some census images up on one of my websites, but they're not from Ancestry. I doubt that too many people have even gone to that site. I could have scanned census records, but I didn't. I just want to find this guy, not to violate terms, conditions, or copyright law.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how they construe professional use? Does it permit professional genealogists to share images with clients? Are unpaid genealogy speakers that use images in their lecturer violating the terms of service, or is that considered professional use?

I had been considering a blog to document one of my dead ends. However, I'm seriously concerned that if I make the blog posts public in an attempt to garner feedback, my blog would be in violation of TGN's rather non-specific definition of personal use.

So the blog will remain completely private until I can afford the time and money to borrow more films from the FHC. I'll have to re-scan the same images I had already downloaded from Ancestry over the last 5 or 6 years. Extra effort. Extra cost. And this make sense how?

All in all, I have no regrets over my decision to cancel my memberships with TGN sites (Ancestry and Genealogy) last February over what I viewed as discrimination in pricing practices toward existing members.

Since I have canceled my accounts at Ancestry and Genealogy, I'm no longer at risk of downloading something TGN will later term a violation of their terms of service. Like your previous poster, Rod, I have removed my family tree from Ancestry.

Way to stifle collaboration, Ancestry!

It's too bad since I had been a satisfied customer for more than 5 years. No more. I don't see how I can justify paying for a service like that if I have to keep my results secret for fear of “legal action”.

Internet Islands Sussex said...

These types of restrictions seem to be commonplace these days. You pay money then find you cant use the item/info as first thought.

Being a UK resident and of English descent I am often asked for info from my research to assit others around the World. I get 1000's daily visitors to my site

I don't know the Laws of the USA or other countries, but had belived that once data is in the public domain it can be used without "fear or favour"?

My research has come from a multitude or sources (there may be some from but not much). Indeed who can say where they got it from? For all we know they have gleaned all their data from paying subscribers, from other web sites and other public records. Why should they have the monopoly on Public Record data and have the nerve to insist that they have the sole right to it?

I could go on and on. Suffice to say that have got "too big for their boots"!

Erin said...

In response to Peter, they are not claiming sole right to the data, but to the images themselves. The data itself is in public domain, but the presentation (charts, images, etc.) are copyrightable. As Dave and Wunder responded to Tuesday's blog, it's really an issue of contract law/licensing that subscribers agree to when they sign up (but how many folks really read the whole thing??).

Erin said...

I cancelled my Ancestry account a year ago, but now have a free 9-month membership because I purchased an upgrade to FTM. I'm not planning to renew my subscription with them until they make some changes and become more "user friendly". They are worth the money if you can find what your looking for, but I think I have found pretty much everything. I also work in a library that has the library edition of ancestry and plan to use that in the meantime. I really hope they do wake up and realize they are shooting themselves in the feet and make some changes. They are a great service and I've been a user since the very beginning (I believe 1995 or 1996), so about 10-12 years, I've stuck with all the price increases, even though it meant taking a school loan to pay for it one year, but I do have my limits.