Why Learning About Copyright Law Is Important: PeopleLegacy

Standard disclaimer:

I am not an attorney and any advice in this or any other blog post I make is not intended to be, nor should it be construed to be, legal advice. Check with an attorney if you need legal advice.

Updated January 31, 2019 to add Wayback Machine link.

Updated September 21, 2018 with links to other bloggers who have commented on the PeopleLegacy situation. i added the links at the bottom of this post and a bit more information about PeopleLegacy.

Today I came across a Facebook post in one of the cemetery groups I belong to. It is a closed Facebook group or I would post a link to the post. In it, somebody posted about https://peoplelegacy.com/. From another post, it sounds like Ancestry is aware of the website and is probably preparing take-down notices with either the website and/or its hosting company (I believe GoDaddy is the company hosting the site based on comments to the post).

PeopleLegacy claims the following:

All data offered through PeopleLegacy.com is derived from public sources. PeopleLegacy.com does not verify or evaluate each piece of data, and makes no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy of the information offered.

I question their understanding of two concepts:

  1. Copyright law as it’s pretty obvious they don’t have a good grasp of this concept. I started researching copyright law back in 2011 before I posted my first blog post in 2013 and I continually research it as laws can change or court decisions can affect copyright law regardless of changes to the law.
  2. Public sources – just because something is available online doesn’t make it a public source. It’s a common enough mistake made by numerous companies and individuals who haven’t researched copyright law.

The reason I spent two years researching copyright law before posting my first blog post as I wanted to reduce the risk of getting sued for copyright violation. It’s also one reason I don’t use as many photos as some bloggers. About a year into researching copyright, I came across a great reason to learn about copyright. It was the result of reading a blog post where a blogger was sued for copyright violation  – https://roniloren.com/blog/2012/7/20/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-for-using-pics-on-your-blog.html?rq=copyright. It’s also covered in a different blog that reposted her blog: https://nelsonagency.com/2012/07/blogging-authors-beware-you-can-get-sued-roni-loren-guest-blogs/. You have to be careful because some of the suggestions can be somewhat misleading. For example, Wikimedia often has images that are protected by copyright, but were added by somebody who didn’t research the image’s copyright status.

I e-mailed Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, to let her know about PeopleLegacy. I don’t know if she will post anything about it, but she covers copyright issues on a regular basis so hopefully she will say something. If she does, I will update this post with a link. Here’s her blog posts that she has categorized as Copyright: https://www.legalgenealogist.com/category/copyright/.

In addition to Judy’s posts on copyright, two other good sources are https://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm – try https://web.archive.org/web/20170222225949/https://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm (Updated January 31, 2019 as original link doesn’t work; Wayback Machine to the rescue) (it doesn’t cover all things, but it’s a fast and dirty guide since some exceptions aren’t included; the key to this source is understanding before 1978, publication date mattered although any of the pre-1978 that wasn’t published automatically fell into the other provision which is creation date. Anything created before 1978 that was never published falls under the provisions for not published works. Photos my mother took before January 1, 1978 are covered by her copyright which is basically life + 70 years (she died in 1997) although as an heir, I would have certain rights to use her photos as specified by state laws regarding inheritance. The second source is the U.S. Copyright Office (for things relating to American copyright; for other countries, look for the country’s copyright website): https://copyright.gov/. While U.S. law has a “fair use” exclusion, it’s a very restrictive exclusion and I see way too many people claiming “fair use” when it doesn’t apply. Also, not all countries have a fair use or similar exclusion. Work for hire is another misunderstood concept. Under a Supreme Court ruling, work for hire needs to meet certain conditions to apply. For example, photos taken of my daughter by a major photo studio chain aren’t works for hire even though I paid the studio to take the photos. The contract (1987) made it clear the chain retained copyright and I needed their permission to do anything with them. While the Internet wasn’t mentioned since it’s wasn’t something that most people had access to, the company would come after me if I uploaded any of those photos to Facebook. When I graduated from college, a different photo studio (https://www.gradimages.com/) took the photos of me. However, they offered to sell me digital download which (I bolded the relevant portion in the quote) basically gave me the same rights as if I took the photos myself. It was more expensive than if I only purchased photos, but I thought it was worth it.

Can I make copies of my prints or the images online?

GradImages™ owns the copyrights to all images taken by our photographers. Except as otherwise required by law, you may not reproduce, distribute, modify, retransmit, or publish any copyrighted material without the express written consent of the copyright owner, including, without limitation, print or electronic reproduction, publication or any display of photography. Purchase of a digital download will provide the purchaser with all rights to reproduce the photo in any way.

Update: Other bloggers that I came across who have commented on the PeopleLegacy situation: Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2018/09/21/americas-first-daily/ (it’s buried about halfway down – do a  search for PeopleLegacy); Dick Eastman of EOGN: https://blog.eogn.com/2018/09/21/no-find-a-grave-wasnt-exactly-hacked/, Randy Seaver of Gena-musing: https://www.geneamusings.com/2018/09/peoplelegacycom-blatantly-copies-most.html, Thomas MacEntee of Abundant Genealogy: https://abundantgenealogy.com/peoplelegacy-com-appropriating-content-from-find-a-grave/. While not a blog, Family Tree Magazine also reported on it: https://www.familytreemagazine.com/articles/news-blogs/peoplelegacy-controversy/, and it’s where I saw the blog posts from Dick, Randy, and Thomas. I ran across Judy’s blog post in a Facebook group.

PeopleLegacy is hosted on GoDaddy and appears to be using the island of Cyprus as an address, but has some contact information in Florida.


About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's collaborateDealspotr.com
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1 Response to Why Learning About Copyright Law Is Important: PeopleLegacy

  1. Pingback: Update on Ancestry Response to PeopleLegacy – LegalGenealogist.com | Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

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