- Debbie Mieszala’s Stop, thief! A plagiarism primer (NGS Magazine, April-June 2012) is a funny but very important look at the world of plagiarism. If you are an NGS member, read it today! If you are not an NGS member, run, don’t walk to your closest genealogical library and read it carefully. As Debbie points out “Keeping plagiarism out of our work is of utmost ethical importance. Nobody wants to hear the words “Stop thief”‘ And certainly, nobody wants them to be true.” The Further Study section at the end of the article offers links to many helpful articles and websites.
Category Archives: Ethics
Guest Blogger – Gena Philibert-Ortega, Gena’s Blog; Food.Family.Ephemera
Social networking has benefitted genealogists through resource sharing, the ability to make connections with other genealogists and learning opportunities. There’s no doubt that using social networking websites can help genealogists further their research.
As we become consumers of new websites we also have to learn how that website works, what their terms of service are and how it affects us. One good example is Facebook. Genealogists new to Facebook often worry about their privacy and whether participation in a social network community will make them vulnerable to hacking or invade their privacy.
A new type of bookmarking website has become a favorite of genealogists. Pinterest < http://pinterest.com/> is currently available only after you request an invite. It bills itself as a “content sharing service.” The main idea is that it provides you the opportunity to “pin” favorite images to a virtual board. Depending on your interests these boards might include such things as favorite recipes, decorating ideas or book covers. Genealogists have used it to create boards showing their ancestors and other family history topics.
So what’s the problem? Pinterest sounds like a good idea, pinning images to a virtual bulletin board that you can share with others. However, if I were to say that I have started a website where you can post other people’s articles to a virtual board for you to share with others, there might be some discussion about copyright and plagiarism.
Pinterest knows there can be copyright issues with their service. In fact they have recently changed their Terms of Service and made it easier to report improperly sourced content. In their Terms of Service’s Acceptable Use Policy it states:
“You agree not to post User Content that: …infringes any third party’s Intellectual Property Rights, privacy rights, publicity rights, or other personal or propriety rights…Contains any information or content that you do not have the right to make available under any law or under contractual or fiduciary relationships…” < http://pinterest.com/about/use/ >
So why shouldn’t people just see it as flattering or free advertising if you use Pinterest to “pin their images.” Most people wouldn’t knowingly take other people’s writings and pass them off as their own without proper permissions, yet you are doing that when you pin something. There can be several problems with pinning images that you don’t own aside from the copyright or publishing right of the person you took the image from. For example, the site that you “ borrowed” the image from may have purchased that photo for a specific use and therefore they don’t own the rights to it. In cases where I have purchased photos from archives for publication in a book or on my blog , the contract I have with them is for one specific use. Republishing it on Pinterest is violating their copyright. That means that they could decide to push a case of copyright infringement against you. Now will they do that? I don’t know but it’s a possibility.
A great blog post on this topic can be found on the DDK Portraits Website. In her post entitled Why I Tearfully Deleted my Pinterest Inspiration Boards Kristen Kowalski writes about Pinterest’s Terms of Service and what users have the right to pin and what they don’t. (Because there is a copyright statement limiting what can be quoted from her blog post, I recommend you just go ahead and read it).
Am I making a case for not using Pinterest? No, in fact I think it’s a great way to share information about ancestors. And you should use it to post content that you own or that you have gained permission to use from the copyright holders. What a great, simple, visual way to share a family’s story.
What I am saying is be careful about what you post. If the image does not belong to you, then ask permission. Yes, I realize that is a hassle but by using Pinterest you are affirming that you are the owner of the image or that you have permission to post it. Infringing on someone’s intellectual property is wrong, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if you use their materials in a blog posting and you don’t attribute it or you pin an image from their website or blog because you like it. No, it’s not flattering and it’s not free advertising, it’s unethical. As genealogists we need to be mindful as we navigate the social network sphere and make sure that we give credit where it is due.
Thank you “Cyndin” . In a comment to “Great-Grandma’s Cherry Pie” she correctly points out that lists are not protected by copyright.
The US Copyright Website states “Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook.”
So, we come to the question, what makes a recipe subject to copyright? The definition above gives the answer. Most recipes have directions, descriptions of how to use that list of ingredients, explanations of the process, pictures of the final result, and the best ones give a little bit of the history of the recipe as well. So the mere ingredients of the Cherry Pie would not be subject to copyright but the written description of the process to create it might be. The more creative the telling of the recipe, such as my Mother’s Spamburgers (complete with my sister’s fantastic art work) the more likelihood copyright applies.
The Copyright Office goes on to state that if you want to keep a recipe secret you probably shouldn’t publish it or file a copy with the Copyright Office.
So…….in a sense recipes are like genealogies. Our basic family group sheet is just a list of facts. Births, marriages, deaths, census listings, military service, no matter which fact it is not subject to copyright law. What makes a genealogy subject to copyright? The descriptions, the explanations, the process of combining facts to make a whole, the thought process used to compile the families.
How often have you heard, “I shared my genealogy and they put it online?” While there might be some ethical problems with this, it is usually not a copyright issue. Unless they use “your stories” and include your thought process in making connections they are only posting facts. Like the recipes, if you want to keep it secret you might not want to share.
Be creative. Turn your genealogy into a wonderful story and you will have copyright protection for your work.
But here’s one last thought….a shared recipe resulted in a better Cherry Pie. A shared genealogy might well do the same. You might find new collateral family and they may lead you back to earlier generations, or even better those new found relatives might have stories that they are willing to share with you.