Thursday, November 15, 2012

So, Now what do I do?

There has been a lot written recently regarding copyright, plagiarism, and outright stealing of content from websites and blogs including Michael J. Leclerc on Copyright and Copy Wrong and Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist, at Copyright and the website.

I thought I'd share what's been happening with my own content... it's gonna be a long post... it's taken me a while to put it together coherently...

About two weeks ago I found an ancestry member tree that had copied quite a few of my blog posts and added them as stories to her tree. Without attribution. No indication in the story that the owner of the tree had not written the story.

In the past I've found blog posts in online trees, also used without attribution, and have contacted the owners of the trees. Usually they comply with my wishes to either remove the content or add a proper citation to the story. But this time, the person had taken over 20 of my blog posts, many of them in their entirety and others using large portions, and added them to her tree as her own stories. Without attribution.

Needless to say, I was extremely upset. I waited a few days before contacting the tree owner mulling over what I was going to say and how best to say it.

Some of the posts here at kinexxions have taken me days to put together. To say nothing of the research time and resources that got me to the point of being able to finally write those posts.

I'm not talking about a list of names and dates, I'm talking about lengthy articles (blog posts) that take hours or even days to write. The other issue I have, especially with the stories, is that the posts are used out of context, particularly if they were part of a series of articles. In addition, if there are links to other posts within a specific blog post those links are lost when they are copied into an ancestry story (at least that is the case with these particular stories).

My reasons for writing about my family history and posting about it on the blog are many. Among them are the desire to share information that I have found, especially on family lines where not much previous research has been done. To show my research process in finding that information and the thought process involved. And, by putting the information "out there" to make contact with relatives or others who have an interest in the same families I am researching.

With those reasons in mind, several years ago I chose to use a Creative Commons License. That does not mean I have given up my rights to the material I have written and posted here at kinexxions. I specifically chose the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license. The guidelines for that license state that if you desire to use content protected under that license:
  • You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). 
  • You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
  • If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

Under those guidelines, I added the Creative Commons logo to the sidebar and added text to the effect that if my work here was used that I should be given credit for that work by having my name included as well as a link back to the specific blog post being used. In other words, simple common courtesy and use of a standard source citation for blog posts.

Two days after finding 20 some blog posts added to an ancestry tree, and after calming down, writing out what I was going to say and re-writing it several times, I finally used the ancestry member connect feature to send the user in question the following message (name of ancestor and link to the ancestor profile have been removed):
"I noticed that you have a lot of nice "stories" on [name of ancestor] and his children, starting at [link to the ancestor]. It appears that you have written them, but I know otherwise... those "stories" were written by me and posted on my blog at
"They required a considerable amount of time and research. These "stories" are licensed through a Creative Commons License which requires that attribution (credit to the author, with name and a link back to the article) be made when used elsewhere. 
"It is simply common courtesy to acknowledge the work of others - particularly when you use the story in its entirety, along with photos. It is also called plagiarism (content theft) when an entire article is used without attribution and without permission.
"It would also be nice to know HOW YOU ARE CONNECTED TO THE FAMILY! Perhaps we could collaborate and solve some of the questions associated with this family.
"I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you will add attribution to the stories of mine that you have used. It's like a never-ending cycle - "your" stories, which are actually mine, have now been attached to other trees. That will continue to happen, I'm sure, but it would certainly be nice if they were identified as to who they were actually written by (including a link back to the original blog post)."
Later that same day, I had a response from the owner of the tree. She said she would add a link to the blog in each of the stories, which isn't really what I wanted. I went ahead and gathered the URL for each post that was used and crafted a citation to be included with each story and sent those to her. By the next day, she had updated the stories with the desired citation.

Even though the person that created the stories added the citations, those changes don't get filtered down to the same stories that were attached to other trees. I have contacted the other tree-owners and explained what was going on and even included the desired citation to be added to the stories they had attached.

I gave them the option of adding the citation or deleting the stories and then, if desired, re-attaching the stories to their trees. As of today, I have had a response from only 2 of the other 9 tree owners. One of those two has made the changes, the other one hasn't. No word at all from the other seven.

So, do I send another message as a follow-up? The other option I have, I think, is to go to each of the stories in the trees and add a comment to them that includes the citation to the blog post.

Several days after finding the blog posts used in the ancestry trees, I checked Find A Grave to see if a Memorial had been created for another ancestor. There was a rather recent memorial for him as well as one for his wife. Included in the memorials were portions of one of my blog posts as the "biography" of the ancestors. This time, I didn't wait a few days since I had already crafted a message for the ancestry trees. I never heard back from the creator of those memorials but I checked a few days later and the biographies had been removed.

I have a feeling that more blog posts have likely been used by others, whether in ancestry trees or elsewhere. I don't have the time or the energy to go looking for them. However, if I happen to come across my content being used without attribution, I will not hesitate to contact the person who has used (stolen/plagiarized) it!

In addition to having the Creative Commons License on the sidebar of the blog, I have also created a "Use of Content" page that displays as one of the tabs along the top of the blog, beneath the header. This allows me to send a specific link describing the terms for the use of the content to people who use my content without attribution.

I have also started including the text at the bottom of this post in each new blog post (modified accordingly, of course). Hopefully, that will make it easier for people to use proper attribution and encourage them to do so. These actions won't stop people who believe that all content on the internet is theirs for the taking but at least I've covered the bases and if content is used without proper attribution, actions can be taken.

Should I go back and add a citation to previous posts? Probably, but realistically, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do that for nearly 1500 blog posts!

Published under a Creative Commons License.
Becky Wiseman, "So, Now what do I do?," Kinexxions, posted November 15, 2012 ( : accessed [access date])


Carol said...

So sorry Becky. I don't go looking, I don't think my posts are worthy of stealing, err, copying, but, I just don't think I want to know if they are. SIGHHHH WHY don't I go looking??? As you point out, there are not enough hours or energy to search em all down. SIGHHHH

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I have found several of my blog posts at Find-A-Grave and have had mixed results when I have asked for attribution. At I beat them to the punch and republish my blog posts there so that they will have proper attribution. Since it is much easier to just attach my "story" to their tree this usually works out well. This way I am also notified when someone attaches a story or photo I have added and can then chose whether or not to contact that person. I have however had a few instances where they copied and pasted it. I get annoyed but my goal is to share what I have and I know some of my content will be stolen so I don't lose sleep over it. I like the idea of adding a citation to the bottom of each post but wonder if those that take will bother to take that too.

Have you contacted I was under the impression that if I updated a "story" there that it updated for everyone that had attached it to their tree. Perhaps there is a time lag?

Shannon Combs-Bennett said...

Wonderful post. I have been thinking about this subject recently and may follow your lead with the useage page. Not that I have had a post taken, that I know of, but might as well start of with it up front.

Becky Wiseman said...

Carol, I don't go looking either but if I happen across a post in someone's tree or elsewhere, I will contact them.

Becky Wiseman said...

Apple, I don't have my tree on ancestry, but that may change in the next few months... I have not contacted yet either. I did spot check several of the stories that the submitter updated with the citation and it has not been updated in the same story attached to the other trees and it has been about 10 days since the other tree owners were notified.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thank you for your comments, Shannon. I think it is a good idea for any blogger, especially a new one to have a "Use of Content" page. I've had the info on my sidebar for several years, but having the page allows me to include a link to it in the "citation" section at the bottom of posts (wish I had thought of that before now!). Whether it does any good or not remains to be seen. As to whether the citation gets copies along with the post, that too remains to be seen.

Jana Iverson Last said...

Wow! This is a terrible situation. I never even thought of people attaching blog posts to trees on or to FindaGrave. Thanks for the heads-up on this.

Cheri Hudson Passey said...

Thanks for the post. I am so sorry this is happening to you. As a beginning blogger, I am surprised when anyone ever reads my posts. I had not thought of someone copying them. I will certainly take your advice!

Susan Clark said...

Dare I say that if anyone is publishing material worth stealing, you are? You've been extremely gracious in your correspondence requesting attribution. Should you decide you want the material removed, Ancestry and Find-a-Grave will remove it upon your request.

Great ideas here. You've caused me to rethink my disclosure and use blurbs. Linking to the blog footer makes so much sense. Thanks for sharing your strategies, Becky.

Becky Wiseman said...

You're welcome Jana. It's not the first time this has happened and it won't be the last but it is the first time on such a large scale.

I just had another strange "coincidence" today when someone contacted me about adding the post I wrote about my Dad and his service in the 511th to his memorial on Find A Grave. It wasn't the person who created the memorial but someone who is interested in the men of the 511th and thought that the post was worth sharing. I told him it would be okay to add a LINK TO THE BLOG POST but to not copy the entire post.

Then, when I went and looked at Dad's memorial I found two photos that had been posted to his memorial yesterday by some person unknown to me. The two photos came from two different blog posts. I was going to message the person who put the photos up but he doesn't have an email just the option for public messages.... I emailed the creator of the memorial asking him to add citations to the photos but apparently only the person who added the photos can do that. Anyway, the creator of the memorial has transferred it to me. I still have to decide how to handle the guy who posted the photos.

It's just so frustrating to have to deal with these content thieves - and it is happening more frequently.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thanks Cheri. When I first started blogging nearly 6 years ago, I didn't think about this happening either. Actually it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I started coming across my content in trees, etc. I just don't understand how some people can think that it is okay to use other peoples content without even acknowledging it!

Becky Wiseman said...

Oh my, Thank You, Susan!

The thing is I don't mind if people use the content. But I abhor it when they use it without attribution. If this post causes anyone to think twice about using content, not just mine, without attribution then it was worth the time and angst it took to write it.

It only takes a little extra time to create the citation footer for each post and if it gets copied with the rest of the content, then that is good. It would be nice if the copiest (I don't think that is a word...) would contact me, especially if they are related. Oh well, that would be asking way too much!!

Cheryl said...

This is becoming more of a problem as genealogy becomes increasingly popular. Yours is not the first time I have heard of this. I feel you handled it very professionally and the people you contacted should have made adjustments immediately. In another venue I have a person I know who is not a genealogist or blogger but an artist. She recently wrote about some of her art being "stolen" by people photographing her work and then placing the photos on various sites and inferring it is their own work. She pursued it and actually sued one person involved who had to pay a hefty fee for this transgression. I don't suggest we as genealogists do that because quite frankly we probably couldn't afford it but people just don't realize that just because something is on the Internet it doesn't mean it is free for all to use. I'm very impressed with the manner in which you are handling this. Of course, your posts are excellent and the research that went into them is also obvious. Actually don't we all think that the research and "hunt" is part of the pleasure of genealogy and NOT just grabbing someone else's work!

Nancy said...

Oh, Becky, I'm so sorry for this mess. It's so easy for people to include a name, a blog name, and a link to the post if they're going to copy all or part of it. I don't understand people who either don't bother or choose not to do it.

So many of us spend a great amount of time researching and composing posts and it's disheartening to see someone "take" our work. I think you handled this situation really well.

I also like your idea of adding the citation at the end of each post. It's a lot of extra work but hopefully it will be worth it. I also like the idea of a separate page for use of content/creative commons licensing. I honestly don't know what I'd do if someone took one of my posts.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope you get satisfaction from those who haven't yet responded to you.

Michelle Goodrum said...

Becky, I'm so sorry this happened. I hope the people that are doing this are utterly ignorant and not doing it deliberately.

I d I do think a Use of Content page is a good approach.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thank you Cheryl. If I hadn't waited a few days before writing to the offender, I'm sure my "message" would have been different.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thanks for your support, Nancy.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thanks, Michelle. A 'Use of Content" page won't stop the thieves but perhaps just having it there will make people think twice about what they are doing.

HoosierSoozin said...

Thank you, Becky, for writing on this important subject. And thanks, too, to those who have posted excellent comments/suggestions here. I'm afraid we are now living in a "different" world -- genealogy is now the #1 hobby in the USA and thanks to widespread promotion by and others, it seems EVERYONE is dabbling in genealogy. Most who steal information and photos using copy/paste are inexperienced and naive. But among them is a growing number of folks who just collect other people's families to satisfy their own selfish interests, without regard to long-established rules of genealogy ethics.

I have 16 trees on Ancestry and have now made all but one "PRIVATE", giving access only to bona fide family members with the caveat they may attach my work to their trees if 1) they, too, make their trees "PRIVATE" or 2) copy for their own genealogy files but not include in their trees. Once agreed, I give them access -- but do keep an eye on them for a while :).

However, I had previoiusly come across a lot of my work on Ancestry trees and contacted the owners in the same manner you described. Less than half complied with my request to include citation or delete. For those who didn't comply or respond, I left a strongly-worded "comment" on each and every photo or story, and that seems to have deterred further "stealing." One Ancestry member turned out to be a real pscyho from Connecticut who tried to engage me in an extremely nasty conversation so I turned him over to Ancestry Administration. After their investigation they suspended his membership! However, they left his tree online, along with all of my stolen work (and others' stolen work, too). But anyone who wishes to attach to their tree, will also be attaching the comment.

As to Findagrave thefts, that's a bit harder to deal with. First contact the offender on each memorial using the Edit tab, and keep a copy of your "Suggest A Correction." If they don't respond in 30 days, forward your copy to and request Admin to remove your content/photos or add your citation. If that doesn't bring satisfaction after 2-3 months, you can (against FAG guidelines) leave a nicely-worded citation in a flower token on each memorial.

In the long run, it looks like this problem is only going to grow as more and more "newbies" begin looking for their ancestors. On the other hand, these "newbies" sometimes post information that has helped me conquer some brick walls.

Becky Wiseman said...

Sorry to hear about your problems with some of the ancestry users, HoosierSoozin. It looks like I may have to go the same route and leave a comment on the stories that haven't been updated. Hope those users don't get nasty with me.

I'm not convinced that it is just "newbies" who are essentially "clicking and claiming" material that is not their own. I too have gotten some good hints from unsourced trees on ancestry and elsewhere.

Anna Richter said...

This was an interesting blog post. It seems a little harsh to say people are "thieves;" I think it's more that they are thoughtless and uninformed.
Unfortunately, some people dont check their messages or know how to do that-I frequently get replies to messages I sent a year or more ago. So if you dont get a response from the people you've asked to correct their stories, it's not necessarily that they are ignoring you. The best way to deal with a non-response would be to post a comment on the tree, as you mentioned. You might also contact Ancestry, explain the problem and ask them to remove the story from the offending trees. You are easily able to show that you wrote the stories in question.
I've never had the occasion to attach stories to my trees on Ancestry, but for sure I'm going to be vigilant about attributing stories to the writer if I do, after reading this post. Thank you for raising my awareness of this problem.

Regarding private trees: I go to a great deal of trouble and considerable expense to track down and collect photos from all over the country, and have posted thousands on my (all public) trees. That's good; I post them for others to see and use, my way of paying back for a lot of help I've recieved. It would be nice if people would drop me a line to say thank you-but they never do. I've accepted that. My peeve is the people who attach my photos to private trees. They take, but never give. I think if you keep your tree and photos private...then dont use public trees to gain information and photos. HoosierSoozin mentioned that she's gotten valuable help from newbie trees...but they cant get help from her trees. A one way street.

Julie said...

That's an interesting approach, Apple, thanks for sharing.

Julie said...

Jana took the words right out of my mouth! I was contacted by someone regarding a post I had done for my orphan photo blog. They asked if they could use the photo and the post in their private tree, with attribution. I said sure. When she finished, she invited me to view her tree so I could see what she did. She copied the entire blog post (with citations), and at the beginning of the story, she stated that I had given her permission, where it came from, and the URL to the blog post, just as she said she would. It's nice to know that some people still have a conscious. But now Becky's post has got me thinking...are my blog posts out there lurking in someone else's tree (or on Find A Grave, or elsewhere) that i DON'T know about? *sigh*

Kathy Reed said...

This is really interesting. I'm not aware of anyone stealing my content. I know that pictures I've uploaded to ancestry are sometimes used by others, but that is OK with me. It seems like those of us who are linked to the same family "trade" information a lot. It's resulted in some great online relationships. Thanks for giving me more to think about.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thank you for your comments, Anna. In my opinion, when someone takes someone else's content and posts it like it is their own, that is content theft.

I understand about people not checking their messages on their ancestry trees - everyone has a life - but ancestry showed that almost all of these people had been logged in after I had contacted them. What I ended up doing was leaving a comment that included a link back to the original post. That took a while since I had to go to each story that was used in each tree, but it was worth it. Oddly enough, after doing that I actually had one person contact me and thank me for adding the citation!

I think genealogy/family history should be a two-way street and that people should give as much, if not more, than they take.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thanks Kathy and you're welcome ;-) I currently don't have a tree on ancestry but have been working on "cleaning up" my database a bit and plan to upload it in the near future.

Caroline said...

I agree with Julie. That's a great idea, Apple. And thanks!


Mumbles said...

It is maddening, the way folks often assume that anything they find online is fair game. Just yesterday, I was having to play "bad guy" because someone took a personal photograph of a friend of mine from my facebook wall and posted it on their own with no attribution, nothing. I do a lot of writing online--product reviews, medical articles, travel pieces, etc., and I've lost count of the number of times I've found my work reproduced elsewhere by others claiming credit. You seem to be handling this reasonably and as effectively as possible.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the well written, readable, AND informative article. This is a whole lotta work, and I am always happy to share when asked, but would be really torked to find I had been blatetantly ripped off
Kassie aka "Mom"

bd6780 said...

I read a blog/article some time back whether it linked to your article, Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter (EOGN), or other site and thought of a few items I saved to my tree (BTW it seems a lot of trees are copied word for word), did not have any source citations listed. I took my tree off the public view to fix these issues. I now add the source citations to the bottom of each article, researched info, and etc, and save it as a PDF file. There is also a note stating that if the story is used in other trees, the original source citations listed must be included. Whether they do or not, I don't know.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thank you for commenting bd6780. It sounds like what you are doing is a good thing. However, if the content you are using is under copyright, you are still required to get the permission of the author/creator before using the material. Once permission has been acquired, a full citation is still needed whenever the material is used.

In my case, since I use a Creative Commons license, permission to use my content is not needed - however, a full citation to the source is still required.

My question to you is this... if the material applies to your ancestors or your family, why would you not contact me (or whomever you are getting the material from) to at least let me (them) know you are using it AND that you are in some way related. Perhaps I have more information pertinent to your research and you, in turn, might (probably do) have information that I could use.