Demystifying Copyrights

(From Rootsweb Review)
Copyrights may be the single most misunderstood topic on the planet, and unfortunately, genealogists are prone to asserting copyrights improperly.

Many assume copyrights are all about writing. They are applied to writing, but are more specifically about rights – e.g., the right of an author establishes copying guidelines for intellectual property.

We see copyrights applied to music, photography and elsewhere – but often, they are misapplied. You may be surprised to learn which items can’t be copyrighted:

1. dates
2. facts
3. slogans
4. short phrases
5. conversations
6. modifications of another’s work
7. domain names
8. public domain items
9. antique treasures, such as old books and diaries

Before you wonder if I am a copyright lawyer, I’m not. I learned this and more from the United States Copyright Office, which states,

“Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

I recommend the FAQs (frequently asked questions), some which are excerpted:
Can I register a diary I found in my grandmother’s attic?
“You can register copyright in the diary only if you own the rights to the work, for example, by will or by inheritance. Copyright is the right of the author of the work or the author’s heirs or assignees, not of the one who only owns or possesses the physical work itself. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Who Can Claim Copyright.”

How long does a copyright last?
“The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. To determine the length of copyright protection for a particular work, consult chapter 3 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code).”

How much of someone else’s work can I use without getting permission?
“Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words… or percentage of a work…”

How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else’s work?
“Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent…”

The website discusses copyright registration, which is useful, but not mandatory. And since authors have varying ideas as to the conditions under which works can be reproduced, I recommend stating your intentions upfront.

RootsWeb Review does this at the end of each issue.

“Permission to reprint articles from RootsWeb Review is granted unless specifically stated otherwise, provided:
1. the reprint is used for non-commercial, educational purposes; and
2. the following notice appears at the end of the article: Previously published in RootsWeb Review: [date, volume, number]”

If you have questions or wish to tell us about reprints, we’d love to hear from you. Now, isn’t that easy?

And if you’d like to establish your own “upfront” copyright guidelines, explore Creative Commons, a non-profit organization. It provides: “tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry.”

Many RootsWeb users, such as Jon Anderson, use Creative Commons. At the bottom of his webpage, click the icon for permissions to share and adapt his research.
Jon’s reasons for using Creative Commons are interesting.

Creaive Commons License

Creative Commons License

“Personally, I put everything I do with family history under one of these [Creative Common] licenses because my purpose for doing genealogy is to connect people to their ancestors. I want the records I work on to become freely available, even when people can no longer contact me. Traditional copyright is very ownership-based and over time, records become locked up in copyright and not available. People move, eventually pass on, and unfortunately sometimes their records pass out of accessibility with them. By using the Creative Commons licenses, I can grant people the level of freedom to use my work, and to use it in new ways, without it being necessary for them to track me down and get special permission every time. Of course, most of the time people are grateful and contact me anyway.”

Rootsweb Review Editor’s Comments: We receive many emails monthly regarding copyright infringement based on other members copying information from their trees or sites. As Mary notes, information such as dates, names and places are not copyrightable. If you choose to publish your research publicly you are allowing others to utilize that information. On a related note, in WorldConnect there is an option to allow others to download a gedcom file of your tree – if you choose to allow others to copy your tree you are implying consent for them to utilize this information and to add it to their tree. On the other hand, there are a few items I want to mention that are protected under copyright law; notes that the tree owner makes about family members or research, or an authors evaluation about their research. A basic rule of thumb for what is protected is, if the content is the individual’s personal thoughts, their intellectual property, it is protected by copyright law.
Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 14 October 2009, Vol. 12, No. 10

Out of Print Books Update

Stay tuned.

We are likely to hear more about the agreement just reached by Google Books which will allow it to scan and put out-of-print books (but not yet of the age to enter the public domain) online for viewing or downloading for pay. Not all of the details were available over at the Google Blog, but this much was clear.

1. The agreement is between Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers and Google. 2. It will apply to all out-of-print books printed after 1923 (thus likely not yet in the public domain). 3. Those who own a legitimate copyright can opt out of the book being offered by Google by a specified date (which was not published in the blog). 4. Those holding that copyright on out-of-print books can establish privacy rights (who can view, etc) and set their own price if the book is priced for selling or withdraw the book altogether. 5. For books whose owners do not opt out, Google can make the book available for viewing or sale at a “reasonable default” price. 6. “This allows access to the many orphan works whose owners have not yet been found and accumulates revenue for the rights holders, giving them an incentive to step forward.”

More will surely be heard about this, both pro and con. It will mean access to books to some and stealing of rights of rights to others. It has a lot of importance to those of us who do family research or who have produced works of genealogical value.

Stay tuned.

New U. S. Genealogy News Feature

A genealogy news feed is now located in the right hand column under tags. This will automatically change, so you can keep going back for updates

Vertical Files Surnames: A-B

The Wood County Genealogical Society vertical files are housed in file cabinets in the genealogy room at the Quitman Public Library. Surname folders may include many kinds of information including ancestor charts, family sheets, and correspondence to and from the society concerning the particular surname.
Surnames A-B
Adams, Aaron, Ables, Acker, Adrian, Agens, Alexander, Allen, Allison, Allred, Amason, Anders, Anderson, Anthony, Applegate, Armour, Armstrong, Arnold, Arrington, Attaway, Atwood, Austin, Avery, Aycock.

Bailey, Ballard, Banks, Barnes, Bass, Bates, Beard, Beaty, Beasley, Beckham, Belcher, Bell, Bellomy, Bennett, Benton, Bentley, Berry, Bird, Birdwell, Black, and Blackstone.

Also, Blackwell, Blakely, Blalock, Bodiford, Bookout, Boone, Booth, Boyd, Boykin, Bradford, Branam, Branch, Brazzil, Breen, Brewer, Bridges, Brittain, Britton, Brock, Bromberg, Brooke, Brown, and Browning.

Also, Bruce, Brummett, Bruner, Bryson, Buchanan, Buckner, Bullard, Bullock, Burden, Burtkett, Burnett, Burns, Busby, Butler, Butts, Byers, and Bynum.
To be continued…

Links: Family History Month

October is traditionally Family History Month. Kimberly Powell at has ten suggestions on how individuals can celebrate this month.You can see the suggestions at this clickable link:

Computer Tip: Make Type Larger For Reading

Two tips from members of GenealogyWise:
1) Hold down the control key and hit the + key (plus key.) to make type larger. To make smaller again, do the same but use the – key (minus key). The shift key is not needed to do this.
2) Hold down the control key and use the scroll wheel on your mouse. Scroll forward for larger type and backward for smaller type.

Thomas J. Shaw of Wood County & Alabama

Betty Vaughn has posted information on the Thomas Jefferson Shaw family of Alabama and Wood County, Texas and Shaw’s Civil War service and a Shaw family photo at the Wood County Genealogy Coffee Klatch at GenealogyWise, the Genealogy Social Network. This is a clickable link to that page:

Query Followup: Taylor

Re: Isaac (Ike) Taylor from a query of Roby Ottwell, first published in the July 2009 newsletter. “Isaac (Ike) Taylor, Mr. Ottwell’s grandfather, …was killed in 1922 when a hired man killed Taylor and stole his money.”

Society researcher and previous newsletter editor Shirley Bates went back to the Winnsboro News office (following the July newsletter) and asked to look at back copies of the Winnsboro News, but they didn’t allow her to look because the newspaper is too old and fragile to handle. Then she went back to the library and tried again going through microfilm, this time from about July until December. Again, she didn’t find anything. Member Dorothy Harbin was still looking in the microfilm at Quitman Library and looked at a site called and it stated that there was a reprint in July, 1956 but she could never find the article. She looked in the Wood County Democrat (as Bates had done earlier) and the Wood County Echo, and found nothing.
Harbin also talked to a man named Taylor, and he had heard the story and had seen the rope on the water tower where the hired man was supposed to have been hanged, but it was frayed and had been up there quite some time. He said he was no kin but there are two other Taylor families in the county and that she might try to contact them.

Bates and Harbin both looked at the microfilm of the Wood County Democrat and looked through society books at the Quitman Public Library. Bates went to the courthouse to check on a death certificate, but Isaac Taylor was not listed in Wood County. The County Clerk suggested that since Winnsboro is in different counties, Wood, Hopkins, and Franklin, it’s probably listed in one of their death index books.

According to Winnsboro News of Oct. 27, 1922, “killed on Sunday” in Sherman, one Maynard Taylor. Could this have been Ike, and he delivered to Sherman instead of in Wood County?

Bates wrote again to Ottwell Sept. 10, 2009 that Harbin had found “a discrepancy.”

Harbin has found an article in a 1944 newspaper with an obituary or an article about Grogan (his mother’s maiden name) Shoemaker. It stated that Grogan’s father was the man who was killed by a black man and then the black man was taken from the jail and hanged from the water tower in Quitman. Harbin contacted the Dallas library and they looked it up and said that it was listed as Jan. 1, 1944. She found an article about his being very sick in the Wood County Democrat on Dec. 30, 1943, but the next newspaper (Jan. 6, 1944) is unreadable on the microfilm. She found Mr. Shoemaker’s wife’s maiden name from the marriage book in the genealogy room at the Quitman Public Library, and she also found some Shoemakers in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 censuses. The maiden name of his wife was Annie (Anniebell) Wallace Taylor and her father’s name was Wallace Taylor.

Bates wrote Ottwell , “It’s possible that whoever told you that Ike Taylor was killed in that way may have gotten him confused with Grogan Shoemaker. The Taylors lived next door to the Shoemakers. It’s unfortunate, but many of our genealogy stories result this way because they are repeated over the years without documentation and people get confused.” (Editor’s note: the previous information is taken from a letter written to Mr. Ottwell by Shirley Bates in August 2009.)

Free Database of Wood County Names

Mark Reid, Publications Fulfillment and Computer Database chairman and co-chairman and newsletter executive editor, has made an offer to members: a computer file copy of his almost 19,000 person Wood County database. The price is “FREE.” Details are in a comment over at the Wood County Coffee Klatch at Genealogywise. (a clickable link). If interested, you can email Mark at the society email address:

Query: Womack

The following query was posted by Nancy Carter on the Wood County Genealogy Coffee Klatch on Genealogywise:
I have a mystery concerning Sally Womack that married Louis Young about 1870. They resided in Wood County until Sally died about 1900. Who were Josh and Nora Womack?

If you have a response, you can go to her post on Genealogywise at this address (<– clickable link) or reply with a comment here and we will pass it on to the Coffee Klatch.


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