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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    « Photo Tutorial: How to Relax and Rehumidify Old Rolled Photographs and Documents | Main | A Blog Birthday to Celebrate! Now I Am Six! »

    How Genealogy Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement Makes Everyone a Loser

    I hate being a “loser.” But I am, and so are you. And it makes me angry.

    Last week I spent two afternoons preparing a How To article for The Family Curator. The topic was suggested by questions on Facebook and Google+, and was something I’ve had in mind for some time, “How to Relax Old Rolled Photographs.” I wanted to offer a step-by-step photo tutorial on how to tackle this do-it-yourself project.

    To create the tutorial photos, I needed to stage my process at each step. It took a few hours to get out all the materials, set up the shots and take the pictures. Next, I had to move them to my computer, resize, tag, crop, and write the article. This one blog post took two full afternoons to prepare. 

    I was ready to publish the article on The Family Curator when I read about the court decision involving a longtime website and a relative newcomer, and the discussion that followed.

    Barry Ewell eMail #30 Remember the Power of One
    “Litigation Between Cyndi’s List and MyGenShare Dismissed”

    and Comments by:

    Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

    Dear Myrtle: Is there such as thing as ethical plagiarism?

    Michael Hait: Copyright, plagiarism, and citing your sources 

    I’m a writer, first, and a genealogist second. I sell words, not research. I like blogging because it gives me a place to write, and I enjoy the response from readers. Every comment, whether at my blog or through email or Facebook is a kind of paycheck, the reward that makes me want to keep writing.

    I don’t want to earn a living blogging because I don’t want to spend my time analyzing conversion rates, SEO, campaign strategy, etc. 

    I just want to write. I write for magazines, other websites, newsletters, and all kinds of outlets, and often I am paid for the products I provide.  It may take a full week working part-time hours for me to draft, edit, create images, and send off a magazine article. Weeks later, I receive a check for the article.

    Some blog posts require more time, too, like the “How to” I’ve been working on. I have to set up materials for the photos, take the pictures, tag, resize, post to blog, write the article, and finally publish, hoping that readers find it useful (and maybe even leave a comment).

    So here’s where we all lose.

    I Lose

    As a writer and genealogy blogger I lose the claim of protected intellectual property.

    When I read about cases of plagiarism and copyright infringement where it’s unclear if an author has been able to defend his or her rights, I begin to think twice about what I write and post as free content on my own blog. After all, there is little guarantee that the same won’t happen to my content. I might turn on my computer  tomorrow and find that my “How to” article is behind a pay wall on a subscription website, or offered for sale under someone else’s name. Yes, I can demand that the material be removed, file a complaint, and state my legal rights, and I’ve done so in the past. But, the cold reality is that it keeps happening.

    If Content is King in blogging, but content cannot be protected, where does this leave the genealogy writer?

    Do we self-edit – only publishing on our blog what we are willing to lose and see appear under another by-line?

    Do we hold back “best stuff” to sell and post only reprints or non-marketable material?

    Do we spend so much time defending our intellectual property that we have less time to create new original material?

    You Lose

    We have an active and responsive genealogy blogging community. We talk to each other (a lot). But there are many more genealogists and family historians who are not bloggers and come to us for information, news, research tips, and know-how. They look for FREE first. And, that’s okay.

    If genealogy writers begin to revise their editorial practices and choice of content, where does that leave the genealogy reader?

    Less free original content

    Less free quality content

    Less content overall

    We all lose.

    Unless, writers and readers can work together to help maintain and protect intellectual property of the creators.

    Refuse to lose.


    • If you notice a breach of copyright on a website, PLEASE take time to notify the original author. Give the author a heads-up so they can take action to protect their work.
    • Always give credit where credit is due. Link to other blogs, use quotes, use citations, and ask permission before reposting someone else’s work, whether it’s a photo, an article, or a research conclusion.
    • Let writers know that you like the information they provide. Take time to “pay” for that free content with a quick comment, a Facebook “Like,” or Twitter RT.


    I’m not giving in, yet. Come back tomorrow for How to Relax Old Rolled Photos.

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    Reader Comments (9)

    Denise - good post, thank you for writing it. i will add your link to my blog post I wrote a few days ago called "Personal Opinion About Copyright and Plagiarism Online " and found at

    We sympathize with Cyndi's experience, and share your feelings about the rampant copyright infringement on the web.

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about copyright, plagiarism, and republishing content. We blog about this ... and offer a free "Bloggers guide to copyright" which you might enjoy.

    Asa professional writer you understand more than most bloggers about copyright and about how much hard work goes into creating content that has value to others and the need to protect it.

    We also offer a free plugin that protects and monetizes content at the blog post level. tweet me @icopyright if we can help --

    Whatever you do, don't stop writing! Your posts are truly valuable and helpful.

    Oh what a tangled web we weave. A very scholarly job Denise.

    I have personally violated copyright. I tried not to, I chased the original owner over the last twenty years and was thwarted at every turn. I used the photograph because I felt it was essential to the article I had written; explaining what it was without a picture would have been futile. That said, I gave credit, explained my search and would be willing to remove if the rightful owner asked. The rightful owner is my problem. Nothing is black and white. The original photographer is long dead as is the publisher.

    For me the wholesale copying of someone's hard work for your own gain stinks. Just stinks. Being your own copyright police is hard time consuming work.

    I have a great book by Richard A. Posner called, "The Little Book of Plagiarism." A little lite/light reading on a very difficult subject.

    July 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterfootnoteMaven

    Thank you for your comments, Lorine, and for the link to your post. I think the conversation is helpful; at least it makes it tough for folks to say "I didn't know."

    July 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

    fM, you're so right. We've all been there, but hopefully without malice aforethought. I would like to think these experiences make us wiser. Once again, I am reminded of two students in my English class who submitted nearly identical papers. When asked about their work, one admitted to "borrowing" from the other. When I asked her why she had done so, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, duhhhh, it would have taken too long to write it myself." I think her answer was a surprise to the student who allowed her work to be copied; she went on to chair the school Honor Committee and worked to promote honesty and ethical scholarship among her peers. ~ Denise

    July 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

    I've been reading thru all of the articles about this situation. I'm a fan of Cyndi's List. I find it interesting that everybody is struggling to find ways to stop this from happening in the future. It's a laudable response. However, since the actors in this situation are well known, why is no one mentioning shunning the guilty party? Personally, I've promised myself that I'm never going to contriute a dime to this man's betterment because of his behavior. For me that includes not subscribing to his offerings (Who knows where they come from?), not buying his books, and not attending events where he is presenting. The last one will surely get event organizers attention, especially if genealogists begin to say why they won't be attending this event or that event. While the courts may have seen fit to allow this man to continue (that's the impression I get from postings), there is nothing to say that the genealogy community itself can't do anything...or perhaps more to the point, simply not play with Barry.

    July 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

    Denise, this is such a thoughtful and considered post, and very sympatico for me. I feel exactly as you do -- writer first, genealogist second. I write because I enjoy it and for the "reward" of a comment, and I try to give comments and keep up the reciprocity of the community.

    Like you, I take a while to write and burnish a blog post, which I guess is "putting in" value. I've never had the experience of a blog being stolen, tho . . . except the other day when someone quoted me and then others took it out of context. I ignored that, because nothing could would come from a public dispute through Twitter. It would fire me up, though, if I saw one of my blogs under another's name, and I would report it (first finding out how). And in academia I've learned under pain of whatever to cite others' work properly, every time.

    Thanks for the references to Eastman, Myrtle, and Michael Hait. Recently there was an article on Olive Tree Genealogy @LorineMS about bringing a case for violation of copyright and winning -- getting the plagiarist fired from her reporting job, in fact. It might sound mean to find that satisfying, but I did. All my colleagues feel riled up when their students plagiarize, and I felt the same way. Writers should call out the theft of others' writing. Plain and simple.

    July 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMariann Regan

    Pam - You are right, we are struggling to deal with this as a "community." I think the parties are named and known by now, and my links identify them as well. It's a tough situation, but worth talking about, I think, because the court of public opinion DOES carry weight. Thank you for joining the conversation ~ Denise

    July 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDenise Levenick

    Mariann - Yes, I think we are kindred souls. I'm sorry to hear about your recent experience; it's never fun when that happens. Sometimes it's a learning experience because the old saw is very true "what goes around... comes around." I hope that with education and exposure, there will be more understanding of the damage caused by unethical bloggers and less tolerance for their actions.

    Yes, Lorine's article was a good case-in-point. I'm glad she linked to the article in her comment.

    Thanks again, Denise

    July 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDenise Levenick
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