Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Be Careful of the Family History You Publish

It could happen to any family historian:
  • You toil for decades on your genealogy.
  • You pull it all together and self publish.
  • You bestow a copy of the precious tome on your local library or other repository.
  • Then you find it on Google Books!
This is what happened to a man from Halifax, Nova Scotia. A desire to share his accomplishment ended up in a battle with Google. But how did Google get it's mitts on his book?

The lesson here is that once our precious family history is placed in a public repository, it's as good as on the Internet. I cover this specifically in my "Save Your Research From Destruction" presentation that I give at genealogy conferences around the country. Once your research is gifted to another organization, you lose control over it. They can shelve it, toss it, or give it away to another repository - and it sounds like that's what happened to the man in Halifax as his book ended up in the library of the University of Wisconsin - Madison. And that's where Google stepped in.

The University's library was one of 20 being digitized by Google under the agreement of the Google Library Project. The author stumbled upon it during a Internet search and was furious.

Google agreed to remove the book from Google Books, and there is a settlement in the works which will affect YOU if you share your self-published work with a library. Read the Baynewser article which includes details of the process Google will be following regarding similar situations in the future.


geneabloggers said...

Thanks for highlighting this especially as it applies to genealogists.

Question: can you tell us more about your presentation and how it got co-opted or made public? There are several genealogy bloggers who also present and speak at libraries and societies - like me - who worry about this. Isn't a copyright implied, moreso if you have it plastered all over your materials? Or was this a case of the copyright being ignored?

Lisa Louise Cooke said...

Just to clarify, I refer to my presentation in this post only to say that I've had my eye on the topic of what happens to your research after it has been gifted to a library / archive for quite a while, which is why this article caught my eye. They have not taken directly from my presentation.

However, I recently had a situation where someone in a genealogy society across the country copied my podcast show notes and put them directly into their presentation, and then told me after the fact because they wanted to post "their" notes on the Internet (which included my notes.) I asked them to LINK to my notes rather than publish as their own.

As far as I know the most we can do is include copyright info on all our materials and contact those who break the rules.

Other ideas out there?

Thomas MacEntee said...

I think you are right Lisa - the burden is on the copyright owner and she/he has to be vigilant. That's why online tools to track copyright violations are great.

Also, if you sign a "speaker's contract" with a venue, check and make sure it is clear as to what they intend to do with any materials you use in the presentation. If the venue does not offer a contract, you might want to have one drawn up that sets basic info (speaker's fee, cancellation penalties, etc.) but also clearly states how your presentation materials can/cannot be used.

TK said...

I guess this also applies to genealogy blogs? For instance: if I put my family history in a blog can anyone just appropriate it? This is what has always held me back from "going public"!