A shift in the terms of service
UPDATE [6 Aug 2021]: Ancestry has amended its terms, again, to say it didn’t exactly mean it… See here.
Ancestry has just updated its terms of service and privacy statement — again — and this time there is a change buried deep in its language that is of significance to users.
As of the change, effective yesterday (3 August 2021), a user can’t change his or her mind about any content uploaded to Ancestry: as of yesterday, you’ve just gifted the rights to that content to Ancestry, forever.
So… the change that impacts us.
Before the new terms, the applicable section read:
… by submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a sublicensable, worldwide, royalty-free license to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. This includes the right for Ancestry to copy, display, and index your User Provided Content. Ancestry will own the indexes it creates. We will also have the right to continue to use your User Provided Content, even if you stop using the Services, but only as necessary for us to provide and improve the Services.3
As of now, it reads (emphasis added):
… by submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. This includes the right for Ancestry to copy, display, and index your User Provided Content. Ancestry will own the indexes it creates.4
Note the addition of the words perpetual and non-revocable — meaning forever and ever amen and no changing your mind. And note that the last sentence, the one that had limited Ancestry’s right to keep using our materials to the cases “necessary … to provide and improve” Ancestry’s services, is gone.
In plain English, the rights to use that family photo you posted, that story you wrote and uploaded, that snippet of family history you’ve shared basically now belong to Ancestry. You can continue to use it elsewhere if you wish, since you’re still technically the owner, but you can’t do anything to stop Ancestry from using it any way it wants, forever.
That’s a very big change.
One The Legal Genealogist doesn’t like at all.
Be aware of it, think about it, make your choices carefully before you upload anything.
Or you may find you’ve just given away more than you wanted to give.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “One big change at Ancestry,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 4 Aug 2021).
- Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Terms of service,” rev. 29 July 2021. ↩
- ¶ 2.2.3, “Ownership of Your Content” in “Ancestry Terms and Conditions,” effective 10 May 2021, via Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/ : accessed 4 Aug 2021). ↩
- ¶ 2.2.3, “Ownership of Your Content” in “Ancestry Terms and Conditions,” effective 3 Aug 2021, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 4 Aug 2021). ↩
Well, that change got completely by me and I did read it yesterday. Thank you so much for this post, Judy. I appreciate that I can now better decide what I want to upload on Ancestry.
It’s easy to miss, and not having a red-lined version online makes it a pretty sure bet that most people would miss it.
Thanks, Judy, for alerting us and for your clear explanation.
My guess is that Ancestry’s reason is defensive.
In a way, it is a good step, because it informs us of the reality that once something is posted on the Internet, you can no longer control it.
And it’s that “informs us” part that really really really ought to remind everybody: we shouldn’t just click through the terms of service. We need to read and understand them.
“we shouldn’t just click through the terms of service. We need to read and understand them.”
Is it really reasonable to expect Joe and Jane Average to understand thousands of words of legalese?
Of course not. But them’s the apples, these days. Our choice is to read ’em, try to understand ’em, and make educated choices, or to do nothing except take what’s dished out.
Seems like this analogous to submitting a created content to a publisher whose TOS is that now they own the copyright. So if anyone else wants to use the published content, they must get express permission from the publisher rather than the author. What if I add a copyright © owned statement to everything I post to my Gallery, photos, stories, family documents. Does that limit Ancestry’s blanket TOS user agreement? Would this be like writing in your own preferences to a boilerplate contract?
This is NOT copyright law. It’s contract law. You are not giving Ancestry the copyright, you are giving them — by contract — a license to use the copyrighted materials in any way they wish.
Hmmm… so since Ancestry owns FindAGrave does that mean does this change in service affect that site as well?
Yes, the terms apply to all Ancestry companies. (For clarity: there are different terms for DNA.)
After listening to this, I decided to remove some notes I had added to ancestors’ profiles, but the issue remains that although I can remove them from my tree, they remain on the trees of others who have downloaded them from my tree. So I haven’t achieved anything by doing this.
Thanks Judy for this great break down of the its theirs now forever and ever amen. SO many people have their trees marked private. I think that means those aren’t so private anymore?? What’s the word on those? My stuff belongs to everyone then I think it works both ways.
Oh, can Ancestry.com sell my DNA info with out my direct knowledge?
Yes I agree, will certainly take care with anything I upload and will probably never upload again!
Wow – I’m completely blown away by this. No waiting period, just BAM now it’s all ours, says Ancestry? That’s incredibly underhanded and dishonorable to do this without any period of time to give users a chance to consider what they have in their tree and whether they would want to give up rights. Is there no recourse at all?
Thanks Judy – for helping us all to navigate this nonsense.
There is a provision in the terms that says: “… material changes will not apply retroactively and will become effective thirty days after they are posted, except that changes addressing new functions in the Services or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately.” Anything uploaded on or after 3 August will be covered and I expect Ancestry will argue that anything retained more than 30 days after 3 August is covered.
Thank you for that clarification, Judy. I’m blown away by this change.
I have just (Aug 4th) uploaded a private tree and then successfully deleted it. No photos in it! So can Ancestry stlll see it?
A question only Ancestry can answer.
*assuming that Ancestry is like any other company, even if something is ‘deleted’ it’s not deleted, it’s simply marked as not visible. But yes, I’d ask Ancestry about this.
Like Laura above, I wonder if there is any legal recourse here. Would it be possible to file a class action suit?
It would seem to me that, because anything one has posted to a public tree is now also uploaded to others’ trees—all while those creators hosted trees under the previous agreement—that subscribers should have been given notice that affective on [future date], the new Terms and Conditions would apply and that ANYTHING UPLOADED AFTER THAT DATE would be subject to the new terms.
Said another way: how can Ancestry legally arbitrarily change the terms under which current subscribers joined? The change affects not only those joining from this date forward but anyone who uploaded anything at any time in the history of the company—some of whom are people who have left Ancestry—with or without deleting their content (which has likely been uploaded by others anyway.)
This is outrageous.
First, be aware that Ancestry has rolled back some of the “irrevocable” language. See here. Second, there is a 30-day window in the terms and conditions for changes to take effect. Third, websites change their terms of service all the time, and it’s perfectly legal. Fourth and finally, no, you can’t file a class action because you agreed in the terms of service not to.
Is there any way to make stuff we’ve already posted Private?
And while we’re at it, I get really annoyed at people who post MY photos which then show up as Hints for my tree. ancestry does nothing when this is pointed out. 🙁
There’s nothing in the terms of service that provides for an exception for private trees. You can take something off the service entirely, but nothing in the terms says a photo or story on a private tree is treated differently for purposes of Ancestry’s rights.
Hmm, that’s interesting. One would think Ancestry would need specific direct express permission to use content publicly from a private tree, just like the rest of us users.
I can only tell you what the Terms say. How they’ll be interpreted is a whole ‘nother issue.
I have used info and photos from others public tree and see mine all over the internet. It seems a moot point to try and remove something now that has gone to every site ancestry now owns.
This is a problem for me also. I had someone take photos I uploaded to a photo site, and post them to ancestry. Most concerning, the user labeled the version they uploaded with incorrect information so that the photo is being attached by a large number of people with the INCORRECT person with the same name. I have almost given up trying to correct them.
Just to be clear, Ancestry cannot gain legal rights to your work by having someone else upload them. Ancestry can’t obtain rights from person B (the uploader) if person B didn’t have the legal right to upload.
Anne, a helpful approach in this instance is to add a comment (a nice feature Ancestry added) to the photo with clarifying information about the inaccuracy. I’ve done this for a number of photos that were attached to a wrong person. Every time that photo gets re-shared, your comment underscoring the mistake and providing clarifying/accurate information travels with it!
What about family information that is submitted. My g.grandmother is often shown with the wrong husband. I have tried to contact people to show them the error. The husband was much older than his wife, but many think the man of the same name & nearer in age must be her husband. Actually the man nearer her age married someone else & he died without fathering any children. Does Ancestry accept incorrect information which may then be reproduced by other people?
You can mark photos private in the security settings.
Rebecca Griffiths, can please you explain how to “mark photos private in the security settings” in Ancestry? Thanks!
Marking each media item private in Family Tree Maker allows you to sync records in from ancestry while not syncing photos etc out to ancestry.
Please explain how you make a photo private in your tree. I thought if the tree was not private all photos were not private.
I just went on Ancestry to a photo of my grandfather. I am not seeing anywhere how to make his photo, or any other private. Can you tell where to search for that?
Much of my hard work comes back to me as hints from others who have blindly copied from my tree. Seldom is a hint really a new hint. Frustrating!
Exactly why my tree is now private and not open for others to see unless invited
Guess I’ve always figured that whatever I posted on Ancestry they would use how they choose, so their latest gambit doesn’t surprise me.
One of the most ridiculous things I find about Private trees is that the individuals who own these trees have shared many of my photos to their trees. Don’t have a problem with this per se, in that I’m the person with the original photos, and took the time to scan, post and share the photos so other somehow connected individuals can see them. But Private tree owners can take my information yet I can’t see their information without requesting it, and after having a couple people ignore my request, I’ve quit asking. And yes, I keep getting hints on photos or information copied from my tree. At least it lets me see what’s been done with it. Once a person took a page from a family newsletter another cousin and I did for 15 years. The individual carefully clipped off our names, date, and the name of the newsletter, so it appeared that individual was the creator of the article. At the time I chose to ignore but, but if I ever come across it again, may write a comment as to where the article was originally posted. For the past several months I’ve been getting hints from MyHeritage and when I look at them, they are almost entirely my photos from Ancestry, with no notation as to who created the original post.
Then there’s the issue of so much bad information in ThruLines, in many instances with the green dot dot dot boxes, often creating bogus relatives, then when you look to see who provided the information, it’s often listed as Private, or even with a name, there are 0 or 1 records that Ancestry allows to trump my 2-5-10-15 records. And as many times as I’ve reported this in feedback to Ancestry, they have done nothing about my suggestion to add a comment under Evaluate, ignore hint as it’s incorrect information.
I wonder whether ancestry could fix that issue, it certainly wastes one’s time.
I post my photos for other family members to see and share and put on their trees if they wish. That is the whole spirit of putting them up, surely? I love finding photos of ancestors I’ve never seen and share in the same spirit. True, it’s annoying if someone attaches my photo to the wrong person who has the same name, but I think it only happened once. I’ll continue to post my photos for others searching for family.
Elaine, I feel the same way. Discovering new photos from other family members and genealogists is exciting. That why we use this site, to share and discover.
I’m curious…all those persons who are STRONGLY objecting to all the shared or “purloined” photos, stories etc…how did you build YOUR tree? I would venture a guess that you have photos or records that were made availalable to you to HELP in your search. What do you have against sharing a family phot with other family memebrs who may not have ended up with the family treasury? I am more than happy to allow anyone to see a phot oof their ancestor and save it to their tree. I can’t imagine anyone NOT of the family being the least bit interested in a photo of someones else family. Selfish people need not apply.
There are better ways of sharing with cousins than giving up your rights to a private corporation without limits on what the private corporation can do with it.
Yuck. Does this apply retroactively to any photo I attached to a (even private) tree before the change in terms of service? If I take it down now does Ancestry still have rights to it? Or, information in a working tree marked private and non-searchable that I will change or fiddle with as my research continues? I’ve already been concerned that the Common Ancestor lineages in my DNA matches often appear to rely (and report on) information in Ancestry trees that are actually Private.
The terms of service aren’t completely retroactive. There’s a 30-day window: “… material changes will not apply retroactively and will become effective thirty days after they are posted, except that changes addressing new functions in the Services or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately.” Anything uploaded on or after 3 August will be covered and I expect Ancestry will argue that anything retained more than 30 days after 3 August is covered. And there is nothing in the terms of service that says user-uploaded content attached to private trees or even private-and-unsearchable trees is excluded.
I have not uploaded any photos of my own. I have, however, uploaded photos that have been shared with me. Does the original poster need to delete them? Should I?
You can’t control what others do with their uploads.
So, this change would now lend credence to those that have said that “Ancestry gain my and other’s records as property and then turns around and charges us a subscription for essentially ‘our’ records.”
So, Tracy do you think you shouldnt be charged for all the software, records, etc that Ancestry makes available so our information can be created and stored conveniently all in one place?
Wow. This just tells me I have been making the right decision all along regarding not putting more than a bare bones tree on Ancestry, and that is only due to having done AncestryDNA.
My thoughts exactly. I waited until their previous terms removed claims on my tree before putting a big one there. Now I have removed it entirely.
I have no intention of removing my TREE. it’s names and dates and places I want to share widely. But I won’t add anything else that I would rather not give a commercial service unlimited rights to.
I thought this might happen when Blackstone became involved.
Blackstone’s first question of any founder: ‘Does using the product lock the customer in?’
Second question: ‘Does it lock out any other vendor?’
Gotta love these fans of free-market competition.
Yep. There is still concern for DNA. This is a huge conglomerate and their purpose is $$$ only.
Their contractual promises as to DNA are pretty compelling, and the contract makes them binding on any subsequent owner.
I echo the underhanded and dishonorable comment. I’ve abstained from putting private photos and stories on Ancestry and I’m doubly glad to have done so now. Up to now, I’ve enjoyed using Ancestry and felt they did a pretty good job of privacy. However, this is a big black mark as far as I’m concerned. And, it will definitely affect whether I recommend Ancestry to others.
Thanks so very much for keeping track of these changes on the various genealogy sites.
Is this possibly just a way of keeping someone from coming back and asking them to take down every iteration of that photo I posted that’s been picked up and reposted by many other users?
There’s no commentary anywhere explaining the reason.
Asking ancestry to explain
WHY these changes were necessary would be a good project. I agree with Elaine that I want to share and work with others who are researching the same families, but it’s that idea that ancestry OWNS my info that just makes me feel very uneasy.
Just to be clear, it is not claiming ownership. It’s claiming a license to use the materials uploaded. You still own your materials and could for example use them elsewhere.
thanks Judy! I now have to check if this change holds true for Ancestry Germany, too. Although it would actually illegal to German law if I am not totally mistaken.
But “stating facts” is something that corporates love to do when it comes to privacy and contract law.
I just checked Ancestry.de, and it has the same change.
this has GOTTA be contrary to GDPR…
Yes agree – surely GDPR doesn’t accept this???
Hi, so am I right in thinking that content uploaded before August 3 but still on the site 30 days afterwards (so September 29th?) becomes theirs to use as they want?
I can only say that there’s a 30-day window: “… material changes will not apply retroactively and will become effective thirty days after they are posted, except that changes addressing new functions in the Services or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately.” Anything uploaded on or after 3 August will be covered by the news terms. I would expect that Ancestry will argue that anything retained more than 30 days after 3 August is also covered.
Ancestry is stealing intellectual property in my opinion!
It isn’t — can’t be — theft if you agree to it, and you agree to it by continuing to use the service and uploading more content.
I’m still confused about what happens to what’s on there before August 3rd? Does that mean we have 30 days from that date to take anything off that we don’t want them to “own”? What exactly does “own” mean in this instance? What does it mean they can do with your stuff?
I can only say that there’s a 30-day window: “… material changes will not apply retroactively and will become effective thirty days after they are posted, except that changes addressing new functions in the Services or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately.” Anything uploaded on or after 3 August will be covered by the news terms. I would expect that Ancestry will argue that anything left on the service more than 30 days after 3 August is also covered.
So say, if, someone uploads my copyrighted photo (that I hold copyright to) to Ancestry, without my consent. Does this rule still apply then, making my copyright pretty much useless?
No. Ancestry can’t acquire rights from person B (the uploader) that person B doesn’t own. Person A (creator or author) retains all rights including the right to require the material to be deleted.
I sent a photo of a portrait as a .jpg and that picture is now on Ancestry. Can I ask for it to be taken down or at least carry an acknowledgment of my ownership? I did contact the person who claimed that they could not remember where they got it from.
You can ask, but don’t be surprised if you’re required to prove that you have exclusive rights to the image.
I have a lot of legitimately obtained images of copyrighted documents in a private tree. So Ancestry have to respect the copyright? The images are marked as copyrighted.
Even copyrighted materials can be licensed. So Ancestry can interpret your upload as a grant of a license for the copyrighted materials and it’s at your risk that the copyright is not respected. Whether it will do this is anybody’s guess, but the terms would allow the argument.
So if Find A Grave is owned by Ancestry all those photos are okay to use on Ancestry because they have already “given” them to Ancestry.
I wonder how, or if, this applies to your DNA. Do they own all rights to your DNA and can do whatever they choose with it? Cops, Pharma, etc.
No, there are separate and much more restrictive terms of service with respect to DNA. They are clear that you own the DNA and it won’t be shared with third parties without either a court order (police) or your express consent (for things like pharmaceutical research).
That’s one reason why they are doing it. The use of crime-solving by the police by using DNA info to link to a killer, for example, is causing repercussions of a legal and ethical type that they are trying to head off. They also want other users to be able to see and study your info, even if you no longer are on Ancestry. Probably if a bunch of people mounted a legal case against them they might lose or be far more restricted. I actually don’t mind letting others see my tree, I don’t think you can claim history and one’s ancestry as your private information and claim it as your personal property. I have seen several published linages Claim to be patented and no one can publish them without permission. That’s going a bit too far. But I would object if it were to be used to harm someone.
This DOES NOT apply to DNA.
So what the hell do I do with all my information I put in there? In layman’s terms can someone tell me?
If it’s just names-dates-places, you probably don’t need to do a thing. That’s purely factual info we all want to share. For stories and photos and the like, you have to make a decision on leaving them online or not.
I’m thinking of taking my photos down, adding a watermark across the face stating something to the fact that I have original photo or own original photo, and then reposting it. Unfortunately I won’t be able to use ancestry.com to print any tree posters but I think no one will want to use my photos for commercial use either.
I only have a private tree on Ancestry, and on that tree I only have names – no dates, places, photos, stories, etc. I only use it for linking and using my DNA results. Do you think the new changes mean I will still have all that same privacy for my tree that I previously had? Thank you!
So personally owned photos, videos or stories added to a profile after the 30 days (now less) become the property of Ancestry. If one deletes them does that totally remove them from Ancestry? What about content added to a profile such as newspaper clips/articles from newspapers.com?? How is somebody with a tree containing say 10,000 personal images supposed to delete them (if that was their choice) before the 30 days are up??
Read today’s blog about the changes. Then decide what you want to do — and consider why you uploaded 10,000 photos to a commercial website.
I wonder how this impacts items that are uploaded to private trees that are not searchable? And is this retroactive? Meaning that everything we’ve already uploaded is now theirs? I have put things on private trees that I didn’t intend to share with anyone. I need to know if I need to delete my tree!
There is nothing in the TOS that says this doesn’t apply to materials uploaded by a user and attached to a private tree. I can’t speak for Ancestry and how it will interpret the interplay between a tree’s status as private and an uploaded document/photo, etc. As for when this takes effect, there is a provision in the TOS of a 30-day window: “… material changes will not apply retroactively and will become effective thirty days after they are posted, except that changes addressing new functions in the Services or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately.” Anything uploaded on or after 3 August 2021 is clearly covered; I expect Ancestry to argue that anything that people leave on the service more than 30 days after 3 August is also covered.
Is there any likelihood that this will be tested in court, at least with regard to DNA? How does this affect copyrighted images, text, etc. people have attached to their trees?
This section doesn’t apply to DNA–there are separate and much more restrictive terms of service with respect to DNA. They are clear that you own the DNA and it won’t be shared with third parties without either a court order (police) or your express consent (for things like pharmaceutical research). As for copyright, understand that any copyright owner can license any copyrighted item, and under these TOS uploading the item constitutes a forever license to Ancestry. You still own the copyright, but effectively you give Ancestry permission to use the item forever.
Seems like this might be in response to Find a Grave complaint recently posted ..does this include find a grave ?
I actually thought that was already the case. I deleted a photo a few years ago and it stayed on the other trees that had attached it. After asking Maureen Taylor for advice I realized it couldn’t be a photo of the person my family thought it was. I contacted the owner’s of the other trees and after sharing the info I had all but one deleted it. Despite knowing the facts that person insists that “it could still be her” so that pic is forever on Ancestry attached to the wrong person. I’ve noticed it with other photos too. I’ll delete something I’ve uploaded and it stays on other trees.
Removing something from one tree doesn’t guarantee it will be removed everywhere. I suspect it’s precisely because it’s just easier to say “once it’s here, it’s here” that this change is being made.
How is this such a big deal? It’s what was already true, being clarified. Folks, if you publish things on a public tree, anybody can download it and use it, not just Ancestry. It’s out of your control. Don’t publish media online if you want it under your control.
I suspect that Facebook language doesn’t add much protection thanks to that passive voice – it’s not “when you delete your content from our system”, it’s “when your content is deleted from our systems.” Which is quite possibly never.
I do wonder if those policies might run afoul of GDPR, CCPA, etc. though.
There’s a difference between running the risk that someone will misuse your content and agreeing by way of TOS to allow any and all uses.
Sure, but there are no more uses allowed now than before, it just makes things more explicit.
Not so. There was a limit to what was necessary for the service before. That language has been eliminated. There are NO limits to their use of user-uploaded content now.
So I think there’s no practical change for people like me who live in places with decent privacy laws.
Well, there goes my plan to upload recently discovered family letters from the 1870’s that help to validate relationships and dates. instead, I will just load a transcript into an Ancestry story.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Judy.
I would also recommend kindex for sharing this type of ephemera. It can be free for a public archive (if you also index your records), or a nominal charge for a private archive. I really like it for sharing photos and documents. (https://kindexblog.org/features/)
Thank you for explaining this. I already treated my postings as if Ancestry has unlimited ownership, but it still is unnerving. I understand that Shutterfly, Google, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and other photo sites also gain ownership of what I post. Are there ANY cloud storage sites where I can post photos and documents to share with family without relinquishing ownership?
Actually, Facebook doesn’t claim this much of a license. It says you can delete anything any time. So that’s different. As far as sharing services, sure — use actual cloud storage like Dropbox. You can give family as much or as little access as you want. Google Drive is the same thing — you control who has access and you do NOT give the hosting company a perpetual irrevocable license.
Perhaps Forever Storage? I haven’t used them yet though so I’m not totally familiar with it. I am going to seriously look into them though. Of course when companies change hands, I don’t think anything’s a guarantee unfortunately.
How different is this change than what’s already been the case for other social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others? I have a feeling most of us have been operating under similar new terms for years in other places.
Every site has its own terms and you’ll need to compare these to the sites you use. I will note that not even Facebook has a perpetual irrevocable license: “Specifically, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). This means, for example, that if you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy, and share it with others (again, consistent with your settings) such as service providers that support our service or other Facebook Products you use. This license will end when your content is deleted from our systems.” (https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms; Emphasis added.)
Thanks for the information. This also got passed me as well. I’ve just deleted the entire set of trees and DNA from Ancestry, including deleted my accounts. Not happy about this at all. I’ve been on there for nearly all of the last 20-25 years.
This DOES NOT apply to your DNA information. It applies to user-uploaded content as defined.
I’m wondering how this doesn’t apply to DNA, exactly. I’m now worried I need to go and eliminate multiple kits.
DNA is considered Personal Information, and not User Provided Content. There are different protections for each type of information, plus a whole layer of additional privacy limits for DNA.
The Ancestry terms expressly provide: “Any User Provided Content that you have shared publicly (e.g. by including such User Provided Content in a public Ancestry family tree, as part of your public profile in one of the Services or in a public posting on one of our Services) may be used by other users as part of, or in conjunction with, the Services.” The Services are defined as “Ancestry®, AncestryDNA®, Newspapers.com™, Find a Grave®, Fold3®, Archives®, and WeRemember®—as well as other related brands”.
So this new policy also applies to anything uploaded to Find a Grave? I have hundreds of photos there.
Yes, the terms apply to all Ancestry companies — but then I can’t imagine how anyone would think that a Find A Grave photo isn’t already licensed for use by Ancestry.
This is TERRIBLE news. So what’s the solution to protect our research, documents, photos, etc.??? I am a personal photo organizer and custom photo book designer and this change will effect many of my clients. I’m also an Ambassador with FOREVER and you can store all of your photos, document, video, audio files and your gedcom’s there.
The answer is not to upload materials if you don’t want to grant Ancestry a license to use them forever. Terms of service really are take-it-or-leave-it.
Bottom line, like your Mother said, “Do not say or write anything that you want to keep private.”
This is extremely annoying. I anticipated this would happen. Before learning of this change, I had debated whether or not to delete my tree, but that erases all of my research. Does anyone know if it possible to download records attached to trees without going from person to person and keeping track of records one by one?
Do keep in mind this ONLY affects user-uploaded content. Records from Ancestry attached to your tree are already theirs. If you have specific items you don’t want to license to them, deleting those is a more surgical solution than deleting an entire tree.
To summarize: If my tree stays up, my research (using their records) forever belongs to them even when I do not pay membership. If I surgically remove the few items I have uploaded, they will remain on others’ trees?
They may; I can’t speak to the status of the items on others’ trees.
Family tree maker is software that you can use to download your tree and all the sources and media to your desktop.
As long as you are not syncing your FTM 2019 tree with Ancestry. Remember anything you upload to Ancestry belongs to them . . . forever. When you sync your FTM 2019 with Ancestry YOU ARE UPLOADing to Ancestry.
RootsMagic software will copy your Ancestry Tree, including all the photos and put on your hard drive. I have been using as a back up and works nicely.
Family Tree Maker will download and save everything.
Good to know. Pretty much all the photos I have are already on other trees, but there are a few I will take down. A shame, because I love having my ancestors’ faces in my tree, but I don’t want Ancestry to own them in perpetuity either.
Is there an easy way to delete the photos off of Ancestry’s site?
Not that I’m aware of. Others may know tricks I don’t.
DELETE PHOTOS. In order to get easy access to photos and stories so that you can review and determine those that you may wish to delete… Click on Home page on your tree. In the middle left portion of the page, you will see “About this tree.” Below this label will be statistics for xxxxx people, yyyy photos, etc. Click on yyyy photos, which opens a new screen called “Media Gallery.” Click on whatever category you wish to view- photos, stories, audio, video. Delete those that you wish to remove from your tree. I am uncertain whether all iterations of a photo that you (the owner) originally submitted will be removed from the tree? This would be a good test to try and let others know.
Thanks for sharing this info. May I quote you when I advise my cousins about Ancestry’s TOS change, and suggest they review and remove any pictures they don’t want Ancestry to own forever?
Use FAmily tree maker, download your ancestry tree to your desktop. Then mark all your media private, then sync with ancestry and all your media is removed, but facts and dates stay.
Liz – are you sure the Private media would not just be hidden on Ancestry?
Thank you Liz for this suggestion, made it simpler.
That was going to be my suggestion Liz/Isabel. I do know that if mark media as private in FTM, it disappears from Ancestry. Then if it is unmarked, it has to uploaded again.
Judy, I’ve subscribed to Ancestry from the start but never uploaded one bit of information (I saw this coming). Unfortunately others have added me to their trees when they “collected” my parents for no obvious reason (they seem to just collect unrelated people). I see myself in many trees as “private,” but I know my information is behind that button. Is there any way to request Ancestry to remove me? Is that a thing?
I’m sure you can ask. I have no idea if there’s even a way for them to do it.
Does this mean, for example, that a photo I’ve uploaded to my tree of my great-grandfather raising a glass of ale could legally be used in future on a poster for an Ancestry-sponsored social event?
That’s certainly not excluded by the grant of an irrevocable license to “host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate”.
Copyright material in a private tree. Two of my trees are “private” specifically because I use them for research work, and occasionally upload a page or two of copyrighted material for MY PERSONAL USE. I typically cite the source, but do not include the copyright information. It sounds like I I should probably remove this information before 3 Sep 2021? It may be easier to just delete the trees from Ancestry (which are backed up onto another platform). I can’t possibly go through thousands of individual profiles one by one within a 30 day period.
I simply can’t tell you how Ancestry will interpret its language. All I can say is there is nothing in the terms of service to exclude user content uploaded to private trees.
Judy—I cannot begin to thank you enough for the “heads up” on this. I sure wish there were a way for all of us to let Ancestry know we are not happy. This would be all of us who have been surprised (for lack of a better word) by Ancestry’s lack of transparency regarding what those of us who “signed on” have now, by default, agreed to regarding what we have shared.
This is going forward, of course, and people can remove what they’ve already uploaded.
Thank you very much, indeed. A previously unknown cousin, a DNA match who has become a dear friend, brought your article to our attention. An excellent read and following Q&A. As it happens, I’ve been busy deleting details and pics from my tree and saving in Word docs that I can eventually print out and keep as hard copies. I will keep a bare bones tree, though, because it is such a joy to link with DNA matches and see their trees. Perhaps more people will at least go private. I won’t for now but will think about it. Doesn’t seem to make a difference to the privacy issue you have raised. Thanks once again.
I will certainly not delete my tree. I want it there for DNA matching and research purposes. I will certainly consider whether any individual item in my possession ought to be uploaded.
Can you clarify if FamilySearch is also changing it’s ownership rights? From what I read, we are protected.
No, FamilySearch will never change its ownership. It’s church-owned.
Now I know why I have never put my info on Ancestry – except for a short pedigree for DNA purposes.
Surely if they change the terms and conditions like this you can cancel your subscription and get a refund even if you have purchased a yearly sub which they don’t normally refund.
I wouldn’t count on being able to do that, since there is an option (delete that part of your user-uploaded content that you don’t wish to license to Ancestry forever).
I’m wondering if this also applies to notes in FTM (which I sync with Ancestry) that are “locked” – notes I’ve made that I’ve essentially privatized and locked others out of for the sake of being sensitive to the person’s descendants. Any thoughts?
There’s nothing in the terms that allows Ancestry to share those notes with others. There’s also nothing in the terms that suggests you’re not giving them a license for the uploaded info. (This may simply be an oversight, that Ancestry simply hasn’t focused on user content in private trees, but the current language offers no protection that I can see.)
I also use Family Tree Maker 2019. I checked the user manual. It says: “any facts, notes or media marked as ‘Private’ are not uploaded to Ancestry.com.” So you are safe. Your data marked as “Private” in the software, is NOT uploaded to Ancestry during synchronization. I’m not sure about RootsMagic. I don’t think you can make media private, only people.
What happens to MY personal photos that I have uploaded to MY tree if I delete them on MY tree and they have already been copied and reposted as belonging to others on THEIR trees with no reference that they were ORIGINALLY posted by me? Is there a way for Ancestry to know they were my original pictures and would they care.? (This has happened several times. Of course I don’t mind their reposting one of my pictures if it comes up in a hint since my name is there as the original poster, but some people like to copy it and repost it as their own.)
Theoretically, if someone has LINKED to the image from your upload, it should disappear. However (a) I’m not sure it actually works that way at Ancestry and (b) way too many people download and reupload as their own. In that case, nothing you do to your copy will impact their uploaded copy.
Thanks, Judy. I appreciate your taking the time to answer. I am taking Alan’s suggestion (above) and going through all my photos (182 pages) of one of my two trees and will hopefully finish deleting my personal photos in both of my trees before Sept. 1st.
Is this any different than photos you put on FaceBook. People can just download them wherever they want?
Facebook DOES NOT require that you give them a permanent license to use your images any way they want forever. This change DOES require that for uploads to Ancestry.
Does my tree stay complete on Ancestry even though I have removed it?
You’ll have to ask Ancestry that.
If I’ve added citation details (such as transcriptions) to my records (which may include links to other sites – but never images that belong to other sites) does this mean Ancestry can use my transcriptions as well (ex: obituaries)? Or does this pertain just to uploaded stories and photos?
“User provided content” is a defined term: “content such as family trees, photos, videos, recordings, stories about relatives, your comments in trees, community discussions, or about records, and responses to email surveys and questionnaires available through our Services”.
Thanks for the explanation. I am not surprised. I get upset when I am given info from familysearch.com, which is free, but I am paying for it with my paid subscription to Ancestry. I had a person take my info and when I questioned her relationship to my family she gathered as much info from me as she could then made the site private. Then only wanted to tell me who I matched in her tree with no way to follow up with them.
How is this legal when we never got an email or message in our Ancestry inbox? I would never have known about this change except for a Facebook group. Can it be challenged in court? That notice that was posted above never appeared on my site, and I log in at least 2-3 times a week.
In general the courts have said that a change in the terms doesn’t need to be emailed as long as it’s on the site, and it’s been on the site for the last several days. I’ll also note for the record that I did receive an email notice, sent to my email of record, that there had been an update to the terms.
I don’t know if this question was already asked, but do our pictures in software FTM, that syncs with Ancestry online tree, belong to Ancestry now?
They don’t BELONG to Ancestry, but by syncing them to Ancestry after the effective date of this change, you are giving Ancestry a license to use them however it sees fit, forever.
This was the email I got:
“Your privacy is important to us.
At Ancestry®, protecting our customers’ privacy and being good stewards of your data is our highest priority…
You can rest assured that Ancestry’s relationship with our customers—and our robust consumer privacy protections—remain the same.”
Clearly this headline message is at odds with the threat to privacy that you have outlined and is contained in the small print.
I have spent the last 6 weeks uploading to Ancestry the results of 15 years of research, including copies of documents acquired legitimately but which are copyright of the issuing repository. Initially, and naively, my tree was public but is now private because I was fearful of the repercussions with regard to copyright law.
I think that I will now have to delete the whole tree and start again elsewhere. (But where?)
This underhand and surreptitious change in terms is very worrying.
I posted this to another question but will repeat it:
I also use Family Tree Maker 2019. I checked the user manual. It says: “any facts, notes or media marked as ‘Private’ are not uploaded to Ancestry.com.” So you are safe. Your data marked as “Private” in the software, is NOT uploaded to Ancestry during synchronization. I’m not sure about RootsMagic. I don’t think you can make media private, only people.
Dorothy Coe, there was nothing underhanded or surreptitious here. Ancestry gave you 30 days notice before the changes go into effect. Those changes have no bearing on the fact that you uploaded material for which you did not have the copyright. Your personal risk is the same today as it was a month ago.
One question I have is, if I decide to add my own watermark to a photo and THEN upload to Ancestry, does that mean they cannot use that photo without the watermark? I have many thousands of family/ancestor photos, letters, etc. that I was going to watermark BEFORE uploading the Ancestry at some point and this new change makes me wonder if it could help.
Theoretically, the license you are granting gives Ancestry the right to make changes if it sees fit. I can’t imagine it would bother removing a watermark, but there’s nothing in the license saying it can’t.
Does this apply to media uploaded to MyCanvas ? It doesn’t look like it’s one of Ancestry’s entities ?
MyCanvas has its own terms you should review.
Please tell me if I’m oversimplifying. If I do nothing, I will have agreed that Ancestry is entitled to use anything and everything forever, however it wants, that is on all of my Ancestry trees, FindAGrave memorials, and Fold3 memorials that I did not add via Ancestry’s records. All uploaded and copied pictures, stories, audios, videos, and any information that I typed in. Correct?
That’s the way it reads. It might be possible to argue against applying the new language to anything already uploaded, but I expect Ancestry to contend that it will apply to everything — new or old — at least once 30 days have passed since the new language took effect.
I know this doesn’t apply to DNA but I’ve always assumed they could make a similar change to policy surrounding DNA info whenever they felt like it. Or is that contract more secure?
Their commitments not to share DNA have been so straightforward that they’d start a war if they tried to roll those back.
But those commitments were made before the sale to Blackstone who clearly don’t mind infuriating their customer base. Is there anything legal preventing them from doing it? Once that market has dried up which is inevitable and not far away they’ll continue having to find new revenue. Couldn’t they make up some new subscription product and bury the change in there betting that the average user won’t notice?
It isn’t illegal to change to terms of service to make them more restrictive.
That’s what I was afraid of. So the only thing preventing them from doing that is bad PR and the risk of losing customers who have already paid for the primary product. As soon as the profit potential outweighs the risk of lower customer accretion and retention there really isn’t any reason for them not to do it. Seems like it’s only a matter of time to me. More likely through an added subscription product that includes language to supersede the previous agreement. Clearly they are not a trustworthy company at this point. It also seems likely that there is little to nothing anybody who has already submitted their DNA can really do to prevent it at this point. At the very least their DNA has already been data laundered through aggregation and “anonymization” and all Ancestry has to do is de-anonymize it at the flip of a switch.
I have much less fear that they will try to do this via a change in the terms over DNA, simply because of the public outcry and the likelihood of litigation. Claiming rights over grandpa’s photo is one thing; claiming perpetual irrevocable rights over DNA data is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
I apologize if this has been asked, I didn’t see it. What about messages/emails sent to and from other users through Ancestry. Do they own them?
(a) Ancestry is not claiming ownership, just a license to use what is uploaded. It’s a fine distinction but it is a distinction. (b) There’s no exception in the definition of “user uploaded content” for messages. (Ancestry has left a lot unresolved in this change in its terms.)
Thank you. I’ll get those off today and inform the other person. Way too much personal stuff talked about between us.
Judy, does this part–“or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately”–mean they can argue that changes being made right now to get photos out of Ancestry’s hands can be ignored and Ancestry can retain the photos because the “changes were made for legal reasons”?
Not a huge problem for me. I have very few images on Ancestry. But that “changes were made for legal reasons” phrase struck me as a typical weasel-expression made to allow Ancestry to do what it wants forever.
I don’t think it could possibly prevail if it tried to do that. Changes for legal reasons are things like responding to a law that’s been passed, not making a change because it benefits your business model.
This is terrible & should
Be illegal. I have been using Ancestry for over 20 years & have several trees with many documents. Originals owned by me & ones researched, found & bought by me.
I had no objection to sharing them
With other like minded people. However I am furious about this change.
Your only clear recourse is to remove the items you don’t wish to license permanently to Ancestry.
This is all very interesting and like others, I’ve deleted the few personal photos I had put on as gallery images in Ancestry.
I have found in my Scottish research that there are many uploaded images from Scotland’s People – a government run site where the terms and conditions do not allow you to take images from their site and share them online for any reason. Personal use only. Ancestry don’t seem bothered by thousands of their users breaking Scotland’s People’s copyright by uploading images to their site, although to be fair, neither do Scotland’s People.
Sharing of documents and images inappropriately has always been an issue online; institutionalizing a rights grab is just making it worse.
I can’t access the site at present so I’ve missed this. I had issues with trying to download a copy of my DNA over the weekend so I chatted with someone who then referred me to another via phone. That didn’t help either and now I’m waiting to hear from higher up, via email. I managed to get a message through via the Facebook page and was told that I had the wrong email address. Well, I hope that’s sorted out soon b/c I’m not only being denied something I’ve paid for in regard to hints and downloads but I can’t find out the new rules! It’s not great knowing that my permanent log in on one computer was wiped in the effort to try to correct the issue, thus leaving me at a disadvantage. Thank you for posting this.
You can always read the terms of service even if you can’t log into the site. There’s a link at the bottom of every page, including the public entry page.
I personally hate it when something is shared on Ancestry.com so that it can be linked to your tree, and then the user who added it later deletes it so that it disappears from all of my research, and I’m guessing that’s the main reason that Ancestry.com has implemented this (not for marketing purposes, but to protect the research of their existing users as it’s extremely time-consuming to search the site and attach images and data, and extremely disappointing to lose that info later on). I have always felt that genealogy is about sharing info so that the memory of our ancestors’ live on. After all, it’s our ancestors’ stories, which should belong to all descendants, not just a select few that were lucky enough to inherit the photos and stories that were passed down to them. It’s the whole reason that I now save everything to my computer and then attach it manually rather than linking it from a tree (so if anyone deletes it, it’s still on my private tree). I think you’re forgetting that any content that is shared online on any website, not just Ancestry.com, can be saved on a computer and passed to others and uploaded elsewhere. Rather than get upset about what is deemed “my property”, I’m actually happy to see the photos and stories of my ancestors travel far and wide online as it brings happiness to so many other people to know more about our common ancestors. It’s a shame you’re seemingly discouraging people to share their content now.
If your choice is to license your content to Ancestry permanently, that’s fine. But your choice cannot control what everyone else wants — and the unilateral choice of a commercial business shouldn’t do so either.
They may have difficulties with copyright laws if the photo has been provided by the taker of the photo to the member who is not the uploader. Copyright lasts for 50 years after the death of the photographer.
So if my mother takes a photo of my aunt and lets me upload it, the copyright still rests with her and all she has done is to give me a license to use it. I do not have the right to assign that license to someone else
This is one of many reasons why this is a really dumb change. An uploader can’t give Ancestry rights by uploading that the uploader doesn’t have. But how does the copyright holder protect her copyright in this case? Ancestry is going to say it’s all the uploader’s problem.
It seems that the folks at Ancestry are familiar with Joseph Heller’s book Catch 22. If you decide to cancel your membership at Ancestry, as I have just done, the final required step in the process is to tick a box to say that you agree to be bound by their terms of service. Yes, you need to agree to the very terms that you are leaving to escape from. In my case I had no tree or other data on Ancestry so it’s no big deal. However for anyone leaving in order not to be caught by the new terms, beware that you have to agree to them before you can leave! I guess this means that any tree etc you leave behind will now be subject to their perpetual licence conditions.
For people that have no idea of the power of GPDR, I am sure you have seen the cookie consent questionnaires a lot of websites now use. These were imposed by the EU via GPDR regulations. And cookies are a lot less to ask than what Ancestry is asking.
I am not at all certain that the GDPR would preclude terms of service like this.
I agree with Judy on this. Under the GDPR, the data subject is the person whose data is protected. Most users of Ancestry will post very little personal data about themselves (and in any case they agree to it being processed by virtue of accepting the t&cs). However the majority of what users post is data about others, most of whom will be dead and so GDPR doesn’t apply to them (see Recital 27).
The gray area is data on other living persons posted by the user for which the data subject has not given permission. This of course should not happen for ethical reasons which Judy has explained elsewhere. But when it does occur, Ancestry has a get out because elsewhere in the t&cs it requires users to only upload which the user warrants they have the rights to. In most cases the site won’t allow personally identifying data on living persons to be displayed. Photographs present the riskiest area because they may contain a mixture of both living and deceased data subjects.
My question is; for what purpose would Ancestry be using any part of our tree and why
Think advertising and marketing, among other things.
Thanks for this lousy news from Ancestry, Judy.
I was wondering, all the data and media I have uploaded to Ancestry is copyrighted to my Mother and Father. Is there any chance that the fact that I do not have copyright rights to any of the info, nullify Ancestry’s claim to have now licensed that?
Also when did Ancestry publish their decision to do this? Did they give the subscribers any warning? Are they required to give warning of changes like this in their ToS? Thank you.
This is one reason why the change is so poorly thought out. You cannot by your uploading give Ancestry rights you don’t have — the copyright still belongs to your parents. But you’re the one on the hook when Ancestry says it can now use that material forever and you can’t change your mind. And Ancestry published the new terms on 3 August. There’s been a banner on the homepage and an email was sent at least to my registered email address. There’s a 30-day window: “… material changes will not apply retroactively and will become effective thirty days after they are posted, except that changes addressing new functions in the Services or changes made for legal reasons will be effective immediately.”
I used to have, how should I best describe this, “control issues” with my genealogical research, but as I’ve matured as a researcher, I’ve learned it’s better to give than it is to receive. I contribute a lot of my original photographs to Ancestry’s sites because they provide me a place to share and connect with other researchers. Find-A-Grave and FamilySearch do as well.
Had it not been for these platforms, there are hundreds of bits of my family tree I wouldn’t had ever pieced together. There are likely hundreds of brick walls these platforms have enabled me to overcome.
These entities are companies, some for-profit, others non-profit. They have to stay in business one way or the other. Private companies can do whatever they want as long as it’s legal.
Rather than get so completely worked up over something like this which in the grand scheme of things I personally consider extremely a non-issue, I’d rather put my energy into canvassing a cemetery that hasn’t been digitized before on Find-A-Grave or connecting with a cousin I would have never found had it not been for Ancestry or FamilySearch.
Perspective is everything in life. I’m not someone who looks at every single situation in the worst possible way to determine who is slighting me.
And if Ancestry decides to use a photograph I posted in its marketing or makes a profit of it (which I think is the most extreme remote of possibilities) than good for them. It’s a win-win. They’ve provided me a platform for achieving my research success and they’ve made a few nickels off my contributions.
I’ll be keeping my accounts on these website with no concern whatsoever.
That’s entirely your choice — but one you can make only for yourself and not for anyone else. Which is kind of the point here.
Erik, I totally agree with you! My tree was just posted this year to include my 30 years of research which comes from all those sites and I want my genealogy information to be found years from now – I turn 75 this year and where else would I put it for easy access to others? I have no concern either.
Agree with you completely. Joined Ancestry 2002. Born in Scotland, with very little links after immigrating to US 1948 as a child. Had very little knowledge of my family tree except parents, 1 set of gr. parents. I built my tree on Ancestry and use it almost daily along with Scotlandspeople.gov.uk to built my family tree. Ancestry has helped me to link with family in Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, US. Yet I pay full for a World subscription, well worth it. and keep my files private, except who I want to invite with limitations to enter my tree.
I will continue on with Ancestry at my age if 82, and hope someone in my family will pick up the slack where I leave off. Cheers for Ancestry
In Ancestry’s support FAQ (https://support.ancestry.co.uk/s/article/UK-Deleting-Your-Ancestry-Account) it states:
“If you delete your Ancestry® account, all information on your account (including, but not limited to, family trees, records, photos, and DNA results) will be permanently deleted.”
In a later section of the same article relating to Family Trees it states:
“Upon deletion, any photos, files, or stories connected to a public tree (or to a private tree you shared with someone) will be deleted from your own family tree when your tree is deleted. If you uploaded any photos, files, or stories and made your tree public at any time, or if you invited anyone else to view your private tree, then it’s possible that other Ancestry users have copied the photos, files, or stories. Anything other people have copied from your tree to theirs will remain on the site.”
There is similar information in the support FAQs for other Ancestry websites.
How does this tally with the change to Intellectual Property clauses in the Ts & Cs?
It doesn’t. Clearly this change was made without thinking of the full impacts.
I spoke with Ancestry Customer Service and they point blank told me there are no changes and this has ALWAYS been in place, thank you for clarifying this. They stated it is only on new subscriptions. I am going to delete my tree just because they lied.
Customer service often doesn’t know about the nuances of changes like this. And, in response, I would never delete my TREE — I want it online to help connect with cousins and include only names, dates, places and links to documents found on Ancestry. I will think long and hard before I upload anything else, however.
Looks like your post got picked up by MSN.com, so hopefully this will start a snowball effect of increased attention and controversy about Ancestry’s sneaky change, and maybe even a reversal. Thanks for explaining this all, Judy.
I would certainly hope Ancestry will rethink this.
Judy; does this change apply to those who have done DNA testing via Ancestry and have the results present on their site. I can understand that any communications or associated uploads by the DNA owner might be included, but I surely hope that the results are excluded. I seem to remember that they had their own contractual agreement.
DNA results are governed by separate, more restrictive terms.
I don’t see anywhere in the MyHeritage TOS that the perpetual license over user content granted to them is revocable. If Ancestry says that the license is “perpetual” and “non-revocable” and MyHeritage says the comparable license is “perpetual” but doesn’t say it is “revocable”, those seem to me to be effectively equivalent (and Ancestry gets kudos for clarity and precision). The fact that MyHeritage explicitly acknowledges the right of revocation for DNA information – but NOT for user content – could be a convincing argument that it does not acknowledge revocability for the latter. Whatever their practice or intention, their TOS says what it says, and my reading is a fair one.
Thank you for so clearly explaining the TOS changes. I’ve seen your post shared widely across Canadian genealogical societies, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out your post is being read more than the original announcement from Ancestry.
Personally, I took this morning to review my media uploads across the many (oh so many) trees I’ve done over the years. I’ve learned a great deal about copyright since I was a beginner. Today I’m careful to share web links to archival documents where I once blissfully and ignorantly uploaded the documents. My take on this is I never should have done that in the first place, whether the documents came from Canadian archives (LAC, BC Archives, AB Archives, HBC Archives, etc.) or other (Scotland’s People, Irish Genealogy, Filae, WieWasWie, etc.) and have now removed what wasn’t mine to share in the first place.
I won’t discuss sharing photos here, as the ownership of images is a complicated subject. For this reason, I’ve always been careful about sharing images online anywhere, be it my site, a photo sharing site, or Ancestry. My private tree is stuffed full of such items – not so my web-based trees, even if they are set to Private.
Please keep us posted on this important topic. I’d love to know more about the reason behind the change.
I would love to know more about the reason behind the change as well. It seems singularly poorly considered.
Hello Ms. Russell,
Thanks for this blog post! I’m coming to this post after reading and replying to Roberta Estes’ blog and had taken a glance at the Wayback Machine before I read your post and realized you’ve already done the same. I don’t like the way Big Tech keeps increasing in the power they assume, but I was curious about what I read on Roberta’s blog and somewhat concerned, so I did a little digging after reading it last night. What I found was, though it wasn’t in the 10 May 2021 T&C, the word “perpetual” isn’t anything new to the terms and conditions. I find it scattered throughout the T&C all the way back as early as August 1, 2014 (see the web archive of Ancestry’s Terms and Conditions at Wayback Machine web.archive.org for 08/02/14)
The new additional word which is effective as of 03 Aug 2021, “non-revocable” does sound somewhat troubling, but I believe is necessary for the way they have been conducting their business for a number of years. Specifically, this is the scenario: When you find a rare find photo of your ancestor which a distant unknown cousin has uploaded to their tree and made publicly available, you save it to your tree and link it to your ancestor, then at some point they delete their tree or otherwise delete the photo from their tree…at this point, (and I do not have any legal background, but it seems logical that) without a perpetual license, they would be required to delete the photo you had found and saved to your tree (it seems like the other user removing a photo they uploaded to the Ancestry platform would revoke Ancestry’s license for it to remain on their platform and this in your tree). Instead what happens is, the photo remains in your tree and attached to your ancestor, with the attribution that the other user originally uploaded it on a certain date; though if you go to the tree of the original uploader you will not find it. I just verified this occurs by deleting a photo of an family member just to make certain, but once you delete your item from ancestry they continue in perpetuity to allow other users to keep the photo. I think this is where the “non-revocable” part has finally been codified. They really should have had that word in there long ago, as they’ve been operating like it was for years.
One other thing is that they’ve now referenced their Copyright policy in the Terms and Conditions, however this appears to have been a policy in similar form (mentioning “we are a licensed distributor”
…i.e., they are allowed to publish your photos and stories in Ancestry search results?) as early as 18 Dec 2017. Maybe since it’s now referenced in the Terms it becomes more legally binding? I honestly don’t know. Just thought I’d see if that made any sense.
I understand in the strictest sense, it could be read as they have the right to republish your photos in any way they please, but it seems to me for their business to operate in the way it has for years, they technically have to have that license, otherwise only you could see the images you uploaded to their platform and there would be no legal ability to have public member trees. I may be way off here, and again, I do not have a legal background, but just want to see what you thought. Thank for your vigilance and sharing great content! Please keep up the good work.
Will Dougherty, III
There’s a big difference between asserting a right (absolutely needed) to display user-uploaded materials and asserting a right to use user-uploaded materials forever in any way the company chooses. That’s what’s at issue.
I missed the meaning behind those words when I read it. I shall spread the word.
What can i do to negate this, other than to stop using the site?
can i email them a response, which is legal, maybe even charge them a fee for every time the data is used?
Should Ancestry not refer to “Ancestry and its heirs and successors” since sooner or later they will sell out to another company – at the moment, the contract appears to be between Ancestry and its users?
They don’t need that language because there’s other language on assignment: “We reserve the right to assign or transfer our rights and obligations under this Agreement.”
QUESTION: in the terms, specifically in 2.2.3 it defines consumer “user provided content”.
It states “Including Genetic information”.
Next paragraph the discussion is about how It defines granting of certain rights as defined in A, B and C.
B states “for the purposes described in these terms and our privacy statement.” (clearly linking the two as does proximity)
next paragraph stats by providing user content (as defined above) you grant perpetual, non revocable……etc all items being discussed.
Doesn’t this mean this forever grant of sub-license and acknowledgment of derivative index of, point blank tell us we are granting right to them to sell the DNA information?
The privacy statement (linked from the words Genetic information above) clearly states Genetic information IS NOT considered PRIVATE information.
This looks to be point blank stating they can (and intend to) sell the DNA data and any derivative information, now and forever.
What am i missing that would exempt DNA from the list of content/services that are included in this change?
Thank you in advance!
(would you please follow up here for others but also directly to the email attached to this so that I may discuss this topic with you offline?)
I make no promises about discussing anything off this platform. As for how I see this, there are two categories of information: Personal Information, which includes the DNA data; and User Provided Content, which does not.
2.2.3 defines use content/services and specifically states that it includes genetic information.
So the ToS change appears to includes the DNA data and derivative databases (aka indexes) it may now or in future create from those. (specifically as referenced in b) to how it will be handled and b) being the controversial ToS changes.
Is there a place that states DNA is covered differently because this appears to be inclusive, specifically inclusive, of the dna data.
There are two different categories of information, as I read the terms: Personal Information (which includes genetic information); and User Provided Content (which does not).
Thank you so much for calling this to our attention. I have always been cautious and reserved about my data, stories, photos, etc. and using Ancestry. I may even tighten up a bit more.
Your insight is appreciated!
What happens with a photo that someone uploaded which was from a site/archive that specifically listed it as “for personal use only” or “attribution required”, etc.?
I think it’s the pictures Ancestry wants. It’s no accident that their new CEO came from Facebook, and I remember one of the head honchos at Ancestry posting years ago that they were going to “take the product in a social media direction.” That’s probably why Traits is again being pushed, and why we’re being asked to respond to a survey about our interests and personal characteristics. Anyway, the first thing I’ll be removing is my pictures, and the only place I’ll upload any more is MyHeritage. Or maybe just Google Drive. It’s hard to know who you can trust these days.
Thank you for keeping us informed. I found out about this from you and Roberta first. The email from Ancestry didn’t come to my inbox until just before noon today.
A relative of mine worked at Ancestry until about 3 months ago in a management position. She had told me, when she left Ancestry, that the new CEO intended to make major changes to the terms and conditions to allow Ancestry to sell data and DNA information to increase the revenue at Ancestry. Facebook has been doing this for years but with the ability to sell DNA information it becomes very scary. Ancestry has the largest data base of DNA of any of the DNA companies.
I had a visceral reaction to this today. I have just recently inherited several generations of family documents that have been boxed up for many years. As I was scanning some old photos, I was thinking about all the people who would be very happy to see them. Then, I remembered that Ancestry has changed their terms and it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I felt physically ill. In trying to describe the sensation, it feels like the difference between giving something to someone out of love, which feels really good, and having someone break into your home and steal your favorite things. Not a good feeling at all.
Years ago my sister uploaded photos of my family without my permission. She took the photos from what was our private family only website. I contacted Ancestry and they refused to make my sister take the photos down. So am I now double S.O.L.?
You would likely have to prove you have sole rights to the photos to take any action.
I’ll bet they’re getting ready to sell again. I wonder what the new owners will do with my stuff.
I have an interesting legal question regarding what Ancestry has done. I have my own website at https:\\mywoodfamily.us. I have posted there a number of old photos, some of which have been used by others and put on Ancestry. My site has a Creative Commons license at the bottom of each page that states “Facts, names, dates and places you find on this website cannot be copyrighted; you are free to use them as you choose. However most of the descriptive narratives and photographs are my creative work product. These materials are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike license. You may copy, distribute, display and perform the work and make derivative works based on them only as long as you credit this website for the original creation.” None of those who pasted these photos to Ancestry have given the required credit to my site. Would this make them illegal (or some other term) and could I force Ancestry to remove them? Just asking.
Unless you can prove that the images came from your site (and not somewhere else), my guess is you could not compel any action.
Judy, thank you. I’ve been following all 200+ comments so far but I’ve not seen anyone mention the living people who are not identified on Ancestry (to other people). What do you think will happen to their information?
The privacy statement does not appear to have been changed in its statement that living people will remain privatized. What I can’t speak to (because it’s not clear) is what might happen to any content attached to a living person.
I got super freaked out by this yesterday, then all the other blogs posted by other genealogist about this afterwards, yesterday and today, so I read the terms carefully and then called them today. These blog posts on the matter are freaking everyone out, andleading them to believe that it means sometning much more dire than it does. I was going to remove all my uploaded documents adn pictures I have spent over a decade putting up on Ancestry, but after calming down and going through it again with a fine tooth comb and talking to someone there, I will not be. 🙂
Diane Henricks, that’s Interesting! I would love to know what they told you. When I spoke to a customer service rep, she confirmed my complaint was accurate and said she would my pass along my comments.
Thank you for all the great comments and bringing this out in the open. Wonder if some higher up is also reading all our comments
Food for thought. Love your site, just came across it on one of my genealogy boards.
Followup, you clarified that there were two categories, personal and user provided.
i thought as you did that dna was in the personal but if you click on the link of the words genetic genealogy it states “A Note About Your DNA and Saliva: Neither your saliva nor the extracted DNA (together referred to as “Biological Samples”) are Personal Information under this Privacy Statement.”
does this then lend it to be included in these new provisions?
I don’t think so. That specific disclaimer is in the specific context of allowing your biological sample to be stored etc. The rest of the privacy statement strongly suggests Genetic Information (a defined term) us included as Personal Information.
to clarify, while the extract is personal the non extracted is not and thus it appears the non extracted could be sold, extracted by third party if i am following your parse correctly.
No. You have to read all of the Privacy Statement. It says in part: “Ancestry does not share your individual Personal Information (including your Genetic Information) with third-parties except as described in this Privacy Statement or with your additional consent. We do not voluntarily share your information with law enforcement. Also, as previously explained, we will not share your Genetic Information with insurance companies, employers, or third-party marketers without your express consent…. Ancestry does not sell your Personal Information.”
I’m attempting to make sense of this.
I’ve been on ancestry for years.
How can they change the policy mid contract?
This is not the agreement I paid for.
I do note that you say we have 30 days to remove photos, but it won’t really matter if other people have copied them.
I don’t know where to go to fully understand or grasp the implications of this.
For instance can they sell the information that I have on my tree to someone who may or may not want to write a book or a film script?
It’s suddenly doesn’t make any sense to me at all to have my family’s stories out there… Some of them are rather dramatic and worthy of if not a book, a short story.
It also seems that when I read at the second time through they want to use this to index the information but not necessarily use the information….
Confused & not a lawyer
Note that Ancestry has amended its terms again to say it didn’t quite mean what this says. See https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2021/08/06/ancestry-retreats/
Wow! That’s a major change. Those two little words have so much meaning. They were also terms the SCO fought IBM about, and they took that case to SCOTUS. Although, I don’t remember SCOTUS taking up the case. So it’s left with one of the Western Districts, iir. So it’s probably pretty settled law now. I have used those terms in granting rights to some of my IT work. The only word missing now is “unlimited”. So, I’d have noticed those, if I bothered to read any of those user agreements. I just don’t post anything that I’d ever care about, or just leave sites if they ask me to click thru an agreement, and I might have wanted to post something important to me. A real shame courts have given these Hobson choice agreements more weight they they ought to.
I just looked up the new T&C, and immediately after the portion you quoted in your post is the following:
“Notwithstanding the non-revocable and perpetual nature of this license, it terminates when your User Provided Content is deleted from our systems. Be aware that to the extent you elected to make your User Provided Content public and other users copied or saved it to the Services, this license continues until the content has been deleted both by you and the other users.”
This sounds to me like the User cannot “revoke” the license as long as their User Provided Content is on Ancestry’s systems, BUT if they delete the Content outright, then that entails a “termination” of the license and this termination has priority over the “non-revocable and perpetual nature” of the license. So all that survives of Ancestry’s license rights after the termination is only Content that has already been copied by other users because you had previously made that Content public.
So, what are your thoughts on this distinction between “non-revocation” of the license during use and “termination” of the license after deletion? It sounds to me like, going forward, Ancestry can use your data while it is on their servers, but not after you delete it, and that does not seem effectively very different than the practical situation has been up to now. Am I missing something?
This is a change since the blog post went public. See https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2021/08/06/ancestry-retreats/
Judy and readers, I don’t know if you and others have seen this yet, but Ancestry seems to have “amended” their new Terms and Conditions to read . . .
“ Notwithstanding the non-revocable and perpetual nature of this license, it terminates when your User Provided Content is deleted from our systems. Be aware that to the extent you elected to make your User Provided Content “public” and other users copied or saved it to the Services, this license continues until the content has been deleted both by you and the other users.*”
This was posted in their blog dated 5 August 2021 and can be read in its entirety here https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/blog/making-our-terms-and-conditions-clearer-modifications-our-august-2021-update?fbclid=IwAR3keRTeUhRyhv4gjKuCorLrbB9It09mz2mTuS-Nh3v2Hu5uR8Fi2hXpXEI
I’d like to know your thoughts on this Judy.
I think Ancestry needs new lawyers to help write its terms of service. 🙂
Well I deleted my tree on Ancestry after reading your post, for which I am very grateful. I was syncing my FMT tree there so that I can share with others more easily. I just don’t trust them anymore at this point.
If I understand this correctly: Many people in this discussion thread are worried about going through their tree and deleting existing media items. If their tree has been public on Ancestry for any length of time much of their media has already been copied by others and so has already proliferated through the Ancestry system and so they have already lost track of their stuff. So really this is going to effect what they add going forward. Is that a more reasonable way of looking at this going forward, especially for people with public trees?
Ancestry must have a plan in the works to publish something that may contain Ancestry members information, why else would they change the terms if not to protect themselves from something. Will be interesting to find out how this plays out.
Wow. I think a class-action lawsuit might be in order here.
Nope, for several reasons, including that the terms of service bar class actions… (You have read the terms of service, right?)
I have some screen captures to my tree from USGenWeb Archives (marriages, lottery winners, etc.) and some images from the General Name File at the Georgia Archives added to my tree that are labeled as such. Do you think this offers any protection under the new TOS?
The terms of service make it your obligation to upload only those items you have a right to upload.
We could, of course, all take our trees off Ancestry and cancel our subscriptions in protest,, There is no guarantee that they will remain safe there under these terms.
I for one have no intention of deleting my tree — it’s just names, dates and places, with links to documents on Ancestry itself like census records. I will think long and hard before uploading other materials to a public tree.
one of the things I see with this is Ancestry’s ability to use the information I upload to my tree, media, notes, comments, at their discretion. Meaning they can sell or do whatever with that information as they so choose forever and ever from this point forward. Am I correct in my summation of their terms and agreement?
You’ll have to ask Ancestry what it intends. It states in a blog post it only wants to facilitate sharing. Why the language is this broad for that purpose is something only Ancestry can answer.
I am troubled by Ancestry’s recent changes discussed above and herein, so I called them today to ask if it might mean THEY (not me) might delete some of my photos or data. I have over 20,000 photos on my several trees (at least 10 yrs of work to post) and in 30 days cannot possibly have time to remove them and furthermore, I do NOT want to remove them, but I am worried THEY might remove them without my knowledge, so today I took screen shots showing how many photos I have today in each tree, but small comfort.
Also, I did not receive an email about this nor a warning banner across the top of my ancestry trees because there was no “home” page for Ancestry on my Google Chrome browser. It took several minutes for the Ancestry person to show me how to find another Ancestry “home” page and terms of service (12 pg doc) on another browser (Safari). So I wonder if anyone who uses Google Chrome might be exempt and/or in the dark as the message notifying change of terms of service was not accessible on theirs as well. The Ancestry person tried to tell me it was because I had not deleted my Google Chrome cookies. Thanks
I use Google Chrome and the banner is there.
On all my photos that I submit I endorse them on the bottom “Source Les de Belin”, so if shared by other Ancestry members at least my “ownership”(?) goes with the photo, unless that member edits my name from the photo? I wonder if Ancestry would edit my name from a photo, or would they use it as I posted it?
A question for Ancestry, for sure.
My first thought was “WHAT?!!” then I calmed down a bit. I ended up going through the profiles of all my near and dear (that are still alive) relatives where I had posted ‘snapshots’ taken by me or by other people in the family, of the family. Although the pictures might not show up to others as they are “living”, at some point they will. I also took down a couple of documents I made when trying to sort out particulars of a family. I thought someone else could use them… but not sure I want Ancestry to use them. HOWEVER, I left up all my Ancestor pictures. Why not? I can’t see taking those down. So the whole process took only about an hour and I’m happy with the decision I made to take down the ‘snapshots’ of living relatives and leave the ancestral pictures up for others to use.
A good balance. Trees are no issue, documents from the website itself are no issue, some family documents and writings are a minor issue, some are a major issue. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
Hi Judy, you posted this comment and I have to ask, who are they (Ancestry, Blackstone) claiming a license from to use the materials (we – users of Ancestry) have uploaded? (stories, pictures, what would be our private information, etc…)
Judy G. Russell
Judy G. Russell on August 6, 2021 at 10:18 pm
Just to be clear, it is not claiming ownership. It’s claiming a license to use the materials uploaded. You still own your materials and could for example use them elsewhere.
The license is from the uploader.
So, would ancestry users not be considered as uploaders? (We are uploading our pictures, stories, etc…) Should Ancestry not ask each user for a license agreement to use our private information? Just saying!
Your continued use of the service after terms of service are announced is your agreement. (Yeah, I know, it doesn’t seem fair, but the whole internet system works on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.)
The Terms explicitly say “**So long as your content remains on our system**, we need certain rights from you for your and others’ use of the Services. By using the Services, you grant us the right …” (emphasis mine) The Terms said the exact same thing in the previous version. The logical interpretation (which Ancestry recently affirmed with their clarification) is that if our content is removed from their system, they no longer have rights to it.
I finally got an email from Ancestry announcing the change on Aug. 9th.
My tree represents over 20 years of research and consists of over 340k individuals. I get inquiries every week about it. I don’t see any alternative but to remove the tree from Ancestry and host it myself using TNG.
There is NO reason to remove a TREE (names, dates, places are simply facts that can’t even be copyright-protected, and that’s exactly the information we want to share). The issue with licensing language like this should be confined to those items such a family photos and articles or stories we ourselves have written that we may not want to permanently license to a commercial entity. I’m certainly not removing my names-dates-places tree.
Judy, Thanks for the clarification.
A further question — I have added “notes” to numerous people’s profiles. I know those notes are only visible to me, even if I “share” my tree with others, but will those notes now become “licensed” for use by Ancestry? They are not “stories” I have uploaded, just notes for myself. I have no problem leaving nearly all my photos, etc. on my tree, but the notes are just for my personal use. Do I need to delete them now?
Nobody except Ancestry can tell you how Ancestry will interpret its terms. You need to evaluate the language of the terms of service against your concerns and make your own judgment as to what you really want to have online at a commercial service you do not control — and where terms of service can always be changed.
I wonder how this would apply to users who are no longer subscribed to ancestry.com. I have had an Ancestry account since 2008 and corresponded with hundreds of other users during that 13 years. Many of them have not subscribed to Ancestry in years and several that I know have passed away. Since they can are not continuing to use Ancestry.com, I would assume Ancestry would not have the same “license” to the data they have posted.
You’d have to ask Ancestry, but my guess is that anything on the service after September is going to be treated as subject to these terms.
In that case, would it be advisable to remove all of our trees from Ancestry or would it be best to keep our trees there? Would “Privatizing” our trees be helpful to protect our personal histories?
I absolutely have NO intention of removing my trees from Ancestry at all. Trees are names, dates, places and pure facts, all about persons who are now deceased — so these are things I want to share with others. I might carefully consider other materials I might have uploaded and attached to those trees — family photographs or articles I have written for example — to determine if I am comfortable giving a commercial entity an unlimited license to use them in any way it chooses to. And there will be those users who may have put more online than I have, to include living people or sensitive matters, who will need to make that careful decision even more than I will.
Publishing copyright material without paying the appropriate license fee, could leave you exposed to paying substantial penalties to the copyright holder. Could this happen if Ancestry uses the material?
Judy – may I have your permission to place a link to this post on my own blog post about the changes to Ancestry? I think this is an issue everyone needs to be aware on and consider.
You may always post a link, without asking for permission. Do be sure however to include a link to the follow-up post, Ancestry retreats.
Thank you Judy – yes I will
Am I correct in thinking that articles from, say, the British Newspaper Archives, if written in ones own manner and with the odd sentence transcribed from the newspaper ‘in parenthesis’ would not be a breach of copyright, but that, out of courtesy, the source should be acknowledged.
You may always extract facts — and ONLY the facts (not the way the facts are expressed) — from any publication without copyright concern. How much actual language you may quote is an “it depends” situation and British law is not the same in that respect as US law. I can’t/won’t ever express a legal opinion on something like that.
Judy: Does user-provided content include the family trees themselves? Some private trees represent many hours and years of primary document collection and analysis, and they are there as private trees for us to check when we are at an archive, etc. Others might have “test” ancestors and are not verified. Would you recommend downloading all the gedcoms and simply keeping our trees on laptops from here on out?
Ancestry already makes use of the data in private trees that are searchable.
Hello Judy, When Ancestry says “content” does this also include our DNA files? Should we be downloading those as well before the cut-off deadline?
DNA is covered by a very different set of privacy rules. And there’s no need to download or delete anything unless you make a careful considered decision that it’s something you don’t want to share on an unlimited basis.
The thing that I find the most egregious, offensive, and downright scary, is that a family member “decided” in her own infinite wisdom, with zero knowledge, input, or permission (what a concept) from me or my sister, to post my photos and personal data, and that of my sister and her husband, into this family tree that she was building/ had built. She had it printed up and sent to me — I was NOT happy, and told her so, so she, being on the immature side, cut off communication. Now, that data is out there on Ancestry, waiting to be hacked (and yes, this is EXACTLY what hackers look for — these kinds of sites and info, for ID theft purposes, per my brother-in-law in Law Enforcement), and we cannot do anything about it. Except possibly sue the family member, I suppose! Furious!
What do you think about adding to the bottom of the photo to be uploaded “shared by” with my name ?
The only way that really helps is if it’s in a place where it can’t easily be cropped out. Because — believe me — people will crop it out and use your image anyway.