They “Stole” My Information

This complaint runs around the internet like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. But it’s worth noting what can be stolen and what cannot as well as what can be copyrighted and what cannot.

Facts cannot be copyrighted. I may spend a small fortune to discover that Johann George Trautvetter who was born in 1798 in Bad Salzungen, Germany, was the son of Erasmus Trautvetter. I can’t copyright that fact. If I write a five paragraph proof argument to establish it, those five paragraphs are subject to my copyright. The fact that Johann George was the son of Erasmus is not something I can copyright.

I can spend a slighter larger fortune documenting the children and grandchildren of Erasmus Trautvetter and then put that information on the internet. Those relationships, dates of birth, death, and marriage, are not copyrightable. They are not “my” information. Others can use it and not cite me, not give me credit, ask my permission, kiss my feet, etc. A lengthy narrative about Erasmus’ descendants with extra information and a dose of my literary whit? That is copyrightable and is “mine.” The general family structure is not.

If you are going to be outraged because someone uses “your” information without crediting you, there is one way to prevent that from happening completely:

don’t put it on the internet.

Remember: specific facts are different than longer written narratives. Those narratives are copyrighted. How practical it is to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit is another matter entirely.

How you feel about someone “using” what you’ve put online is up to you. Just don’t be surprised if it happens.


7 thoughts on “They “Stole” My Information

  1. Yes. And, after all, who would bother to “steal” your stuff about your family? Your own relatives. If they had any manners, they would give you credit for it and send you a message to congratulate you on the work.

    • “If they had any manners,” seems to be the problem. Yesterday I found a tree who has moved/copied the entire pages of 2 generations EXCEPT for MY line. All the siblings were there. Both parents and all grandparents were there. My gggrandmother was not. Help yourself to all my work but don’t include my family. This was a brick wall project for my entire family since before 1978. At that time the next generation was trying to solve it for her aunt who was going to celebrate her 105th birthday soon. Someone in my family has been looking for a LONG time. All I can hope is that anyone else searching will find that I have those same people in my tree plus a few more. And I hope the extra documents that other person added will be checked for accuracy and not used again. Just because the name is the same…

    • I am the only person left in my Dad’s family. The closest kin I have is 3rd or 4th cousin blank removed. I don’t know them and they don’t know me. So if it helps them fill out their tree go for it who knows maybe i will run into their tree one of this days and get info from them.


    • I do my family tree for 2 of my grand children none of the rest are interested. The only thing that i can hope is that it will help someone else or when my greats and great greats get old enough they will be interested then i will show them the tree and hope they will add to it.

  2. BONNIE MADSEN says:

    I don’t mind that people see my tree and copy info onto theirs, but what bothers me is that people do that without really double checking to how it fits into “their” tree, they just copy info they find on other people’s trees and figure “ok, that’s good.” I have found people’s trees that have Agnes Jane Bingham along with the rest of the family. The rest of the family is fairly accurate, but there is no “Bingham” anywhere that I’ve ever found. Don’t know where it came from other than it showed up in someone’s tree and someone else copied it to their tree without checking for accuracy. Agnes Jane was a Campbell and my 2x gr-grandmother, so believe me, I know she wasn’t a Bingham.

Leave a Reply to Dee Horn Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.