Facts Vs. Copyright – October 22, 2020

Standard Disclaimer:

I am not an attorney and any comments I post are not intended, nor should they be construed, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a legal expert who is familiar with the area of legal expertise you need.

While facts can’t be copyrighted, that doesn’t mean how they are presented can’t be copyrighted. For example:

John Smith died August 31, 1997.

The above is not protected by copyright as it’s a simple statement. Let’s suppose I went into great detail about how he died, what he was wearing, and numerous other things. While each factual statement wouldn’t be covered by copyright, the overall way I presented the facts would be covered by copyright. A person could take each fact and write it in their own words or put the facts in simple statements. The same is true for obituaries.

When I add obituaries to Find-A-Grave, I always re-write them in my own words. I also remove the names of living relatives. I also use my own format that is different than the obits I read. In the case of an obit that is old enough the living relatives are older than 120 years, I leave the names in the obit and try to find their memorials. The same holds true if a family member listed as living has a memorial and is linked to the individual. I tend to stay away from the flowery language in an obituary. I prefer to go with “Just the facts” style of doing obits. If I notice there are missing family members not listed in the obituary who have died, then I will mention them in the bio.

The above copyright restriction also applies if you are dealing with non-obituary records, online sources, or newspaper articles. Plus, if it’s about a well-known individual, a newspaper may have paid extra to extend the copyright if it was published back when you could extend copyright.

About ICT 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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