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AfriGeneas Genealogy and History Forum Archive

Proposed Legislation--Could be Hurtful

This is an article in the newest edition of the Eastman Online Genealogy Newsletter (found at:
- Proposed Legislation Would Wreak Havoc for Genealogists

A new bill before the U.S. Congress proposes to overturn one of the most fundamental concepts of the present copyright laws. If passed, facts would become copyrighted for the first time in U.S. history.

The Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act (HR3261) would make it a crime for anyone to copy and redistribute a substantial portion of data collected by commercial database companies and list publishers. At first, that sounds like a good idea. However, a bit more thought shows that nobody would be able to republish stock quotes, historical health data, sports scores, or voter lists. In fact, a lot of genealogy information could not be republished.

If passed, Google and all the other search engines would be crippled, probably driven out of business. These are online databases that collect information, or facts, from other online sites so that the user can quickly find the information they seek. If Google and the others are not allowed to collect facts that are now copyrighted, how will they be able to index the Web for you?

Art Brodsky, spokesman for public advocacy group Public Knowledge, says the bill would let anyone drop a fact into a database or a collection of materials and claim monopoly rights to it. This would contradict the core principle of the Copyright Act, which states that mere information and ideas cannot be protected works.

Let's say that a commercial genealogy service such as or publishes the fact that your great-great-grandparents had a child named John. Once that "fact" has been published by any commercial service, that original publisher would hold the copyright on the fact, and no one else would be allowed to publish it again. The Family History Library, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Genealogical Publishing Company, and others would be prohibited from publishing that information again in any of their online or printed works. In fact, private individuals would similarly be barred from publishing the information in their own derivative works. If a commercial site publishes a fact about your ancestors, you would not be able to place that fact on your own Web site or in any book or report that you give to others.

The language in this proposed legislation contradicts the core principle of the present copyright acts, which state that mere information and ideas cannot be protected works.

You can read more about this proposed legislation in Wired News at,1294,62500,00.html

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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