All already-digitized New York City historical records and their associated text metadata. (Yes, all.) – Reclaim the Records October 29, 2020

I saw this on the IAJGS Records Access Alert daily newsletter which links to Reclaim the Records article below. The article is much longer. The IAJGS Records Access Alert and Reclaim the Records article include the goal to place online free forever all the New York City records. It’s a much longer article, but here’s some basics from it.


Faced with an unbelievably ridiculous attack on public records access in New York City, we’re taking matters into our own hands: we want to get the contents of the New York City Municipal Archives and put all the records online ourselves — FREE, FOREVER

Genealogists have just about had it with New York. Even for the kinds of quiet, conflict-averse nerds who actually enjoy digging through probate files, who have become inured to dealing with some of the most restrictive rules on historical public records access in the whole country, it seems like this month, October 2020, was when it all finally boiled over. Nights of emergency Zoom meetings, days of public comments — the New York genealogist, historian, and researcher community is beyond mad right now. And they have every right to be.

And we at Reclaim The Records want to tell you that story, and how we are starting to fight back against this government greed gone amuck.

Earlier this month, the New York City Municipal Archives did something unusually dumb. They announced a revision to their rules that would require all Archives researchers and patrons to request and obtain the Archives staff’s “permission” in order to use or re-use any images or historical records that they hold, even if those public records are very old or are entirely in the public domain. The Archives didn’t specify how or why this “permission” would or would not be granted, nor how to appeal if it were somehow not granted. Furthermore, the Archives says that researchers must then pay the Archives a blanket “licensing” fee for the use or re-use of those public records it holds, far above any actual copying costs, even for educational, scholarly, or non-profit use.

In other words, this taxpayer-funded public archive wants to limit your right to use, re-use, or re-publish every historical public document that you might ever want to obtain from them, in your articles or presentations or books or movies. If you’re a professional genealogist, they want to limit how you may legally re-transmit those records that you already bought to your client, or to a court if you’re working on a legal proceeding, or to a foreign government’s consulate if you’re working on a dual citizenship project. They even want to take ownership of any new scans or photographs that you might have made of those public records. They even have the nerve to ask you hand over copies of your new photo negatives to them, and then assign the rights to those negatives to the City of New York! And then as the cherry on top of the sundae, they want to you pay them extra for the right to do all this, too.

Don’t believe us? Well, check them out for yourself.

And the really crazy thing is that these revised rules aren’t even that much better or worse that the absolutely bonkers “contract” the Archives already hands out to people who want to use Archives materials! Go, read those conditions and bullet points slowly, but ideally not while you’re drinking a beverage.


That “contract” comes straight from an official New York City Municipal Archives e-mail account. We got tipped off to this scam of theirs about a year ago, when we heard through the genealogy grapevine that a researcher from Australia had reached out to the Archives over e-mail, asking them (although he legally had no real need to ask) if he could please make a scan of a 1906 NYC birth certificate for a minor celebrity and then add that new image to that person’s page on Wikipedia. The Archives actually told him he’d have to pay them if he scanned and posted the more than century-old public record he already had. And not that it should even matter for a non-copyrighted and very old totally public record, but Wikipedia is also, of course, a famously free non-profit website, not a commercial use.


Here’s the Wikipedia link from the IAJGS Records Access Alert article:

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
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