You Cannot Own a Fact

We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating:

facts cannot be owned and facts cannot be copyrighted

I can spend $20,000 on research and documents in order to establish that Thomas Fakeancestor was born on 12 June 1802 in Nosuchtown, Vermont. I can spend months analyzing those records. I can give myself high blood pressure in my attempt to pin down his date of birth. But…

That fact is not mine to control. Once I share it with another human, post it online, etc. any one can “use” it without crediting me. If I don’t want anyone else to possibly “use it” without crediting me, then I should keep it to myself.

Would it be nice if people gave me credit for making the discovery? Yes.

Would it genealogically ethical for people to give me credit? Yes.

Can others use the fact without my permission? Yes.

The forty-five page analysis I wrote of the documents used to reach that conclusion is something that I can own and have the copyright to.

But the fact no.

Otherwise someone could copyright 2+2=4.

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One thought on “You Cannot Own a Fact

  1. Well stated!
    As you have often said, citing sources be it fact or family lore, lends credence and authority to the information. Plus, of course, the courtesy and respect we give to others time and effort. When I mention to a friend that I now know something new often their first comment – is how did you find that!

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