This is the letter sent to GenWeb County Coordinators with regard to the

copywrite law and our position with it.  Please respect all laws and follow

these guidelines in your requests for "lookups" and information from other 




Date: Wed, 23 Oct 1996 20:06:25 +0000

Subject: WEB: Our Proposed Position on Lookups


After much research and discussion, here is my position on the issue 

of Lookups.

John Rigdon

National Coordinator

The USGenWeb Project


It is vital for genealogists/family historians to understand 

copyright laws, not only for the protection of others' rights, but to ensure 

that we retain the rights to our own work.

Besides any legal ramifications; we, as a great new project, do not 

want to offend our many friends who work tirelessly for little profit to

publish these great source references.  We do not want to offend

those who do legitimate professional research -  let us not make 

these people our enemies - We want them as our partners.

It is that recognition plus concern for the organization and all

individuals involved which led to establishment of this policy.

The only way to protect the project as a whole and each of us as

participants in that project is to remove all lookup offers

for which you do not have written permissions or determinations that

the source is public domain and therefore requires no permission. 

Infringement can occur from several different reasons or actions and

ALL these aspects must be considered in each case.

1. The source itself--is it copyrighted or public domain? If it is

copyrighted, who holds the copyright and what are the requirements of

that person or entity?

2. The amount and type of information taken from the source.

3. The person or entity using the information from the source -- 

because different rules apply to different entities. Are we equivalent 

to a public library? Are we educators? Is USGenweb a non-profit 

organization in the LEGAL sense? I think most of us will agree that 

this project doesn't yet have clear legal claim to any of those titles 

or privileges.  This doesn't mean that we can't qualify, only that at 

this moment we don't qualify.

4. The market effect of one's use of the information-- it will probably

be on this point that someone will eventually be sued for copyright 


We are not acting in private here. We are not merely pursuing our

private avocations. We have chosen to join a grassroots movement to

protect and preserve our family histories for our nation and the

generations to come. In doing so we have "gone public" in a big way,

and we are now subject to laws that govern such public groups.

We're all here to help the genealogical community.  Folks doing

lookups should understand that authors have a legitimate right to

compensation, and a well-done lookup should include telling folks

how to buy the book when it's of significant value to their

research.  Authors need to understand that genealogists have a

right to look before buying and that lookups should be perceived

as a marketing tool rather than a loss of sales.


USGenWeb'S Official Policy

USGenWeb will not tolerate any copyright violations.  Lookup requests

should be limited to one name, or perhaps two if it is a married couple.

Information given will be minimal, for example if it is a cemetery lookup, 

the information will be the name of the cemetery and the dates on the 

headstone.  Please do not ask for "everybody with X surname" or an entire 

family group, or for hardcopies to be mailed; the volunteers have been 

asked not to comply with such requests.

Our lookups will extend to searching the book to determine if the book

would be helpful to you in your research.  Should the book prove useful,

we can provide the authors address and ordering information.  

The USGenWeb Project will endeavor to get a WRITTEN statement from each 

copyright holder which stipulates which books may be used for lookups.


Proposed wording which we need to have from copyright holders:

I grant non-exclusive permission for individuals to do lookups for the

USGenWeb Project from my publications.  I am not forfeiting my rights

under 17 USCode Section 106.

I grant permission for lookups in ______________

I DO NOT grant permission for lookups in ______________


Dated ______________________


Here is a general overview of copyright law.


Since Jan 1, 1978, everything an author (including you and I) writes is

protected by copyright the minute it is written.


Copyright protection under this law extends for the rest of the author's

life and an additional 50 years beyond it. The new law does not depend

on publication.  Works by two or more authors extend 50 years beyond

the death of the last author to die.  Anonymous works, works under a

pseudonym, and works for hire extend 75 years from publication or 100

years from creation.


Any published/written material on which the copyright has expired is

considered to be in the "public domain" and may be used by the general

public without payment to or permission from the author. An article,

poem, etc. may be copyrighted individually, but it is also covered if

the publication in which is appears is copyrighted. 

There has been some discussion that authors/publishers cannot copyright

facts.  This is and isn't true.  The original records cannot be

copyrighted, but for example, a compilation of them can be. Anyone,

however, is free to consult the original records and make their own

compilation and are free to do whatever they want with them.  But, even

though someone abstracts/transcribes public records, they cannot be

tossed about either.  The law specifically recognizes the right of the

person doing the work, in this case transcription, to be compensated for

their work.


Under the old copyright law, a published work was copyrighted for 28 years

and could be renewed for another 28 years, for a total of 56 years. When

the new law was passed, that copyright protection was extended to a total

of 75 years for all works currently copyrighted. So works published earlier

than Jan 1, 1921, are in the public domain.


The copyright act does not set down definite limitations on how many 

paragraphs or words constitute "fair use" of copyrighted materials.

Instead, it sets up four criteria to determine fair use:

A. The purpose and character of the use

B. The nature of the copyrighted work

C. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to

   the entire work

D. Effect of the use on the market for or value of the work. 

The author of The Beginning Writer's Answer Book concludes that a good

standard is to limit yourself to quoting fewer than a hundred words

from an entire book.


One way of avoiding violating copyright is to paraphrase material--to

put it into your own words--or use indirect quotes. You should, however,

always give credit to the source and refrain from extensive use of

paraphrase or indirect quotes.


If use of material created by someone else diminishes the market 

value of that person's work, his or her copyright has been violated.


The publisher is the best  place to write for permission to quote 

from a book, poem, song or magazine article. Ask your reference librarian 

for help locating the publisher's address if it is not printed in the 

book or magazine. If the publisher is no longer in business, try locating 

the author in Who's Who in Literature at your local library.

There is usually no fee for permission to quote from copyrighted 


9. Burden of Proof in Infringement Actions

During the course of its deliberations on this section, the 

Committee's [US House of Representatives] attention was directed to a recent 

court decision holding that the plantiff in an infringment action had

the burden of establishing that the allegedly infringing copies in 

the defendant's possession were not lawfully made or acquired under section

27 of the present law [that would be the 1909 version of the copyright

law, the 1976 act changed this], American International Pictures, Inc.,

v Foreman, 400 FSupp928 (S.D. Alabama 1975).  The Committee believes

that the court's decision, if followed, would place a virtually

impossible burden on copyright owners.  The decision is also

inconsistent with the established legal principle that the burden of

proof should not be placed upon a litigant to establish facts

particuarly within the knowledge of his adversary.  The defendant in

such actions clearly has the particular knowledge of how possession of

the particular copy was acquired, and should have the burden of

providing this evidence to the court.  It is the intent of the

Committee, therefore, that in an action to determine whether a

defendant is entitled to the privilege established by section 109(a)

and (b), the burden of proving whether a particular copy was lawfully

made or aquired should rest on the defendant.

[In other words, If someone accused you of violating the infringment

principles of copyright law, it is up to you to prove you didn't.]

17USC, Section 501, "Copyright Infringement and Remedies."

There are two provisions in the law for remedies of violation of the

copyright of a person. Both are rather severe, the person who feels

they have been violated may sue for actual damages or statutory 


Actual damages include, lost sales, the profit the infringing party

may have made from the infringement, and legal fees.

Statutory Damages are fixed at $20,000 per infringement if I read the

section correctly.  This one gets a bit confusing, and is covered in 

28 US Code, Judiciary and Judicial Procedure.

The following web sites provide reference on copyright law:


Sunni Bloyd ""

Jett Hanna ""

John Rigdon ""

Jeff Weaver "JWeaver300@AOL.COM"

John G. West ""