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Another great example of 2020 in operation

It’s the perfect metaphor for this crazy year of 2020.

A government agency says, in print, it intends to change its rules to state that there will be a “Publication or license fee for any use of a reproduction of a still image, document, or other archival item …The publication or license fee start at $15.00 for educational, scholarly or non-profit products or media, and increase for commercial products or media.” and that “Permission to publish, reprint, broadcast, re-duplicate, or make other use of Archives or Library matrials may be granted subject to fees …”1

Not surprisingly, those involved in education, scholarly, and non-profit media — specifically with respect to genealogy — are Not Amused, and join together to speak out.

And when they do, they are told, in effect, We Didn’t Mean It.

Yesterday, The Legal Genealogist posted a warning that the New York City agency that oversees the New York City Municipal Archives was proposing a rule to require a licensing fee for the use of anything it holds in its collection, on top of the copying fee it already charges to get a copy of the item in the first place.2

Many people have joined in commenting on the proposed rule, and when we do, we are now getting this automated response:

Thank you for commenting on the proposed update to the Rules of the Department of Records and Information Services. The Department does not plan to charge a license fee, or request permission, for the personal use of genealogy records. DORIS currently has a license fee that is charged when items are commercially reproduced. The rule simply updates that license fee to bring it in line with similar institutions. We understand that the language in the proposed rule may be confusing and we will ensure that the final rule clarifies this matter before it is published. We apologize for any mis-understanding and we look forward to continuing to help people around the world document their New York City roots.3

Forgive me for being a Doubting Thomas here but…

I don’t buy it.

And I’m certainly not going to suggest that the genealogical community turn down the heat.

keep heat on

First off, if the agency didn’t mean it was imposing a licensing fee for any use, it shouldn’t have said it was imposing a licensing fee for any use.

Second, what this response doesn’t say — just as one example, is putting an image or a document in a blog post right here at The Legal Genealogist going to be considered personal use or will I have to have a license? — is a whole lot broader than what it does say.

Nope. I don’t buy it. Not yet. Not until it’s in black and white.

Keep the heat on.

This is too weird a year, this 2020 we’re living through, to take anything on faith.

Speak out, and oppose the rule proposal.4

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Um… a retreat by NYC?,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 8 Oct 2020).


  1. Notice of Public Hearing and Opportunity to Comment on Proposed Rules,” New York City Department of Records & Information Services, NYCRules ( : accessed 7 Oct 2020). And yes, it says “fee start” and not “fee starts” or “fees start” in the rule.
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Heads up on NYC records access!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Oct 2020 ( : accessed 8 Oct 2020).
  3. There’s no way to provide a link to this…
  4. Yesterday’s post has all the details on how to do just that.
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