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AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum

Re: "Ownership" of and access to slave data /recor

This has ben a most interesting discussion, to which I would like to add my view as a researcher and a transcriber.

First, I question the applicability of copyright laws to materials that are over 135 years old, especially since copyright periods back in those days were considerably shorter than they are now. Many people are attempting to copyright materials of genealogical interest which are in fact no longer legally copyrightable. Arguably where papers were truly private and donated to an archives for public access, the donation constituted a publication and if the donor did not claim copyright at the time of the donation, the items came into the public domain. If the family donated private papers, subject to a permission requirement for viewing, and if the archive accepted that requirement and assiduously enforced it, then there may be some question as to whether there has been a true publication to the public domain.

As for the archives charging for copies, I think that is fair for them to help pay the expense of maintaining the originals. But I also believe once the materials have been copied by someone, that person should be free to spread more copies in the public domain. Archives usually have you sign a form when you receive a copy of an original, agreeing to credit the archive as the source of the material and I think it is fair and proper to do that out of respect for the archive maintaining the original. Spreading the information freely in the public domain is wonderful, but how much more wonderful it is to be able to go to an archive and see the actual original document - that is a service I hope will always be available.

Privacy rights for those "anonymous" pictures of ancestors is more complicated. I am not sure when such rights arise or expire. I do hope the publication of such pictures over the years has helped keep alive the memory of the evil of slavery and that those depicted would appreciate that.

I posted my response to Myrna's post because, when I started my large slaveholder transcription project I determined personally that I did not think transcribing materials to specifically help descendants of slaves should be done for profit. In my view, the work should be donated and published freely on the Internet without any attempt to copyright any aspect of it.

If you are still reading, thanks for listening.

Tom Blake


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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