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It’s theft

Yet another case of genealogical theft is being reported in our community.

Stop thief road signThis time, it’s the website GenealogyInTime Magazine reporting that some of its authored, copyrighted content is being reproduced, almost word for word, in the newsletter of another website.

In its post, “Let’s Talk About Plagiarism,” GenealogyInTime showed screenshots of a newsletter sent out by email from a different website, and invited readers to compare the contents of the newsletter to earlier articles on its website:

• For the first one, “We encourage readers to click on our link and compare the introductory text between the two articles. They are essentially the same.”1

For the second one, “it is the same article as one we just published on our website. This article was copied in the email newsletter just two days after we published the original article on our website. We would show more of the copied article but we couldn’t get all of it in one screen shot.”2

The Legal Genealogist has nothing to add to this invitation by GenealogyInTime: read the post and decide for yourself.

What I do want to note is simply this:

Taking someone else’s work and using it ourselves — even if it’s not for commercial gain — isn’t sharing.

It’s theft.

Oh we can wrap it up in fancy words like “plagiarism”: “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.”3 And it is surely that when we make no effort to credit the person who did all the research and all the hard work. Anybody who’s suffering from even a momentary confusion as to just what plagiarism is can get a great education by reading Elizabeth Shown Mills’ “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing.”4

We could go even further and call it copyright infringement: “The unauthorized use of a work that violates the owners’ copyrights (their rights to exclusive use of the work).”5 And it is surely that as well. Even though it isn’t necessary, under U.S. law or Canadian law (GenealogyInTime is a Canadian website), GenealogyInTime has a copyright notice on every one of its pages, to put every reader on notice that the content is copyrighted.

And if the law alone wasn’t enough, the website explains itself clearly in its terms of use. Those terms are straightforward. There’s no room for others to say they didn’t understand the limits:

All of our content is 100% original. Do not copy, reproduce, translate or upload any content from our website or Newsletter to a blog or another website without our explicit written approval. If you like something on our website, simply talk about it and provide a link to our website.6

But using fancy terms obscures what’s really going on so very often in our community.

What we’re seeing, all too often, is theft. Somebody stealing somebody else’s work: somebody else’s words, somebody else’s photographs.

And it’s wrong.

It violates every ethics code our community has:

• The National Genealogical Society’s Standards For Sharing Information With Others notes that “responsible family historians consistently— identify the sources for all ideas, information and data from others, and the form in which they were received, recognizing that the unattributed use of another’s intellectual work is plagiarism.”7

• The ethics statement of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies provides that “If data presented relies on work already previously undertaken, the credit for such work should be given to the originator…”8

• The code of ethics of the Board for Certification of Genealogists requires Boartd-certified genealogists to pledge that: “I will not represent as my own the work of another. … In citing another’s work, I will give proper credit.”9

• The code of ethics of the Association of Professional Genealogists requires members to promise to “fully and accurately cite references; and … (g)ive proper credit to those who supply information and provide assistance.”10

All of us, as responsible genealogists, individually and as a group, can act to keep on the straight and narrow path here.

First and foremost, in our own work, we need to cite our sources even in our own private research notes or genealogy database entries. That will keep us from even inadvertantly passing off someone else’s work as our own. Someone else’s work should never be incorporated into our own without credit being given.

Secondly, when we want to use that work for publication — and that includes even sharing it with our families and friends, we will often need to ask permission since in many cases our use goes beyond what the law allows as fair use.

And thirdly, we need to stop looking the other way. It’s time for our community as a whole to stop thinking of this as “just sharing” and to start yelling, “Stop, thief!” We need to stop tolerating it and excusing it when someone copies someone else’s work.

Because it’s not sharing.

It’s theft.


  1. Let’s Talk About Plagiarism,” GenealogyInTime Magazine ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014), “plagiarism.”
  4. Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014).
  5. Wex, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014), “infringement (of copyright).”
  6. Let’s Talk About Plagiarism,” GenealogyInTime Magazine ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014).
  7. National Genealogical Society, Standards For Sharing Information With Others, PDF ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014).
  8. IAJGS Ethics for Jewish Genealogists,” International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014).
  9. Code of Ethics and Conduct,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 3 Nov 2014). This code is also followed by Accredited Genealogists pursuant to the Professional Ethics Agreements of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.
  10. Code of Ethics,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
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