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.