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Play nice. Obey the law.

The name really doesn’t mean a thing in any language. You won’t get a real live human to do your research for you. You do have to register to use the website, but the basic tools are free.

The site is, which was launched in March 2011 as a free search engine geared toward genealogists and people interested in learning more about their family history.

It bills itself as “the world’s largest genealogy search engine with more than 6 billion names in the index,” where “users can search across millions of family history resources from one centralized website.”1

One big part of what Mocavo does, and why genealogists would want to use it, is provide that search engine. It’s designed to return results from genealogy websites only: “The data in our indexes only includes information of interest to family historians. You will not find Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, or YouTube videos in your Mocavo results.”2 But there are more features for genealogists, even with a free account. It has a to-do list feature; you can upload your family tree and find matches; you can upload historical records like photos, books and documents, and they’ll be automatically digitized using OCR and made searchable.

Now all this free functionality has to come with strings attached, right? After all, every website has terms of use — and remember, those are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it.”3

And certainly does have terms of use. In a slight paraphrase, here they are: Play nice. Tell the truth. Don’t violate anybody else’s copyright. Respect other people’s privacy rights. Don’t hack the code, break into the network or reverse-engineer the website. Obey the law. Don’t upload pornography or threatening materials. Don’t use the site to hawk your own wares.


To some degree, can afford to have very liberal terms of use because it’s primarily a search engine and not a records provider. Its business model doesn’t depend on having people subscribe to have access to the records it provides; its business model depends on having people choose to upgrade to the paid subscription to get more and better search functions — most particularly, a search function that works passively. You upload your family tree, and Mocavo’s paid version will take each and every name in your tree, search the web and report back to you — daily or weekly — with its findings.

But the reason for its very liberal terms of use doesn’t change the fact that the terms are very liberal, both with respect to your use of its site and its use of any information you might upload.

The site requires that you register and provide accurate information about yourself when you do. And you have to be an adult, over age 18, or have parental permission to use the site.4 If you’re a paid subscriber, you agree to pay on time and provide accurate billing info.5

You can use the site but — as with any online site — agree not to monkey around with the code or try to hack the site.6

As to information you upload, “you have to represent that you are the owner of the copyright to the Content you submit to the Service or that you have written permission from the copyright owner to submit such Content. In addition, you warrant that all moral rights in any Content have been waived.”7

And there are a bunch of restrictions on the nature of what you can upload. Stuff that’s “threatening, obscene, pornographic or profane material or any other material that could give rise to any civil or criminal liability” is out, as is any material that infringes on someone else’s copyright or right of privacy.8

There are more no-nos:

     • nothing that’s “defamatory, abusive, harassing, threatening, or an invasion of a right of privacy of another person; is bigoted, hateful, or racially or otherwise offensive; is violent, vulgar, obscene, pornographic or otherwise sexually explicit; or otherwise harms or can reasonably be expected to harm any person or entity.”9

     • nothing that’s “illegal or encourages or advocates illegal activity or the discussion of illegal activities with the intent to commit them, including a submission that is, or represents an attempt to engage in, child pornography, stalking, sexual assault, fraud, trafficking in obscene or stolen material, drug dealing and/or drug abuse, harassment, theft, or conspiracy to commit any criminal activity.”10

     • nothing that’s “antisocial, disruptive, or destructive, including “flaming,” “spamming,” “flooding,” “trolling,” and “griefing” as those terms are commonly understood and used on the Internet.”11

     • nothing that’s “commercial, business-related or advertises or offers to sell any products, services or otherwise (whether or not for profit), or solicits others (including solicitations for contributions or donations);”12

Under the terms, you do give “a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, transferable right and license” to use the information you upload in its business, but:

     • “You remain the owner of all Content that you submit to the Service”;

     • “Mocavo does not claim ownership rights in any information, data, text, software, music, sound, photographs, graphics, video, messages, or other materials or content you make available or use in connection with the Site and the Services or use in connection with your account”; and

     • “you may, at any time, permanently delete your Content from the Site, Services, and Mocavo systems”.13

There’s a lot of legal boilerplate, including the fact that any legal action has to be in Colorado, the governing law will be Colorado state law, and the loser in any lawsuit has to pay the winner’s legal fees. Most of the boilerplate is pretty standard stuff.

So the bottom line at Play nice. Obey the law.



  1. About the Company,” ( : accessed 8 Aug 2012).
  2. Home page, ( : accessed 8 Aug 2012).
  3. Judy G. Russell, “A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 8 Aug 2012).
  4. Terms of Service: Registration,” dated 11 Nov 2011, ( : accessed 8 Aug 2012).
  5. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Pricing and Payment.”
  6. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Site License.” See also ibid., “Terms of Service: Rules of Conduct.”
  7. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Copyright in Your Content.” Note that moral rights are broader than copyright in some countries. Moral rights don’t exist in the United States as a legal concept.
  8. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Submissions.”
  9. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Rules of Conduct,” paragraph (a).
  10. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Rules of Conduct,” paragraph (b).
  11. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Rules of Conduct,” paragraph (h).
  12. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Rules of Conduct,” paragraph (d).
  13. Ibid., “Terms of Service: Copyright in Your Content.”
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