I'm opening this meta to provide an place for discussion about the general issue of copyright and Genealogy.SE and/or discussion about this relative to the referenced question.

As part of the question, "Locating additional details on 'Thomas Tunin' - b.1836, d.1912," our community member provided a meaningful set of contextual information. When asked, links to sources were added.

I viewed each of the sources to learn a little more detail, including that I followed whatever references there were to discover what seemed basic ownership, dates, etc.

  • The family tree information. I'm not an attorney, but I found this information to consist of "facts" (names, dates, places). Generally US copyright does not protect "facts."
  • Family narrative. This was developed from a message posted 1998 to a RootsWeb hosted mailing list (OKDEWEY-L), and the author of the post cites, "'Spanning the River,' Dewey County FFamily Histories Vol. 1." I tried to chase down that reference; discovered notice on the page "Dewey County Oklahoma Publications," reporting a publication date of 1976. I don't have a copy of the 1976 work, so I can't know if the RootsWeb post (1998) is a summary or extensive quote from the 1976 work. In either case, though, what is posted to StackExchange seemed it was an extensive quote from something that would be subject to copyright.
  • Tombstone photograph. The source for the photograph appears on a USGenWeb page (OKGENWEB - Dewey). I didn't find any creative commons license on that page; it carries a reference to Susan Bradford, however, and the page is reported last edited in 2008. Generally, modern photographs are creative works (thus subject to US copyright; see Copyright. "Can I use Someone Else's Work..."

Even when material is subject to copyright, US law has some "fair use" provisions. See Copyright: Fair Use; also check out "Fair Use Evaluator."

At least it wasn't clear to me that permission had been granted regarding the family tradition and/or photograph and I didn't take the fair use issues further than my own rules of thumb.

I didn't flag the question, but in my answer, I commented and asked our community member/poster to revisit the question.

2 Answers 2


I'm not a lawyer either.

That said, after reviewing the question, there's nothing that strikes me as too problematic.

The length of the excerpts don't seem to be too obviously long to be considered fair use, and they're all sourced, as is the image. I did add block quotes to the narrative that lacked them, to make it more obvious that it's sourced from elsewhere if you overlook the link.

The image is one place where fair use probably wouldn't apply, but given the clear link and the nature of the source page, I think it's probably not an issue.

That's not to say that we wouldn't honor a copyright holder's request to remove the image, or possibly shorten the excerpts, but in the absence of a complaint, there's nothing here that looks like a clear violation of anyone's copyright to me.

Speaking of copyright holders' requests, copyright issues can be reported to us through the DMCA process is described in section 15 of our Terms of Service.

  • Thank you for your insight. We would be in disagreement. Attribution (ala, "they are all sourced") is more about falsehood/representation; it has scholarly and ethical implications. Copyright deals with reproduction, distributions, etc. That no one would sue is quite a separate matter. Fair use, in part, incorporates a notion for use to be limited ("need"). I would prefer to have seen attribution and links to source and (a) a summary of the family history passage (quote with elipses perhaps); (b) attribution and description of the photograph with a link to the source.
    – GeneJ
    Dec 10, 2012 at 16:05
  1. There is a proposed Area 52 site to ask legal questions. Although it's not open yet, interested parties may want to 'commit' and maybe give a question like this as a sample question.

  2. Since none of us appear to be copyright lawyers I searched thru SE and found some relevant q&a including this one by a lawyer who teaches on the subject. My reading of the author, @Chris, answer is we should not not be overly worried. It's not for profit, it's not creative, and it does not impact the market value of the original.

  • At least some of the experts you want to attract to StackExchange are creators, including writers, authors and photographers. I presume you and I would not be in agreement about what constitutes creativity. Likewise, we would not seem to agree on how fair use applies to the circumstances that involve the narrated family history passage and photograph.
    – GeneJ
    Dec 12, 2012 at 16:20

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