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July 7, 2013

Personal Opinion About Copyright and Plagiarism Online

Personal Opinion About Copyright and Plagiarism Online
Today I want to point my readers to two blog posts which discuss what to me is a very important topic - copyright and plagiarism on the internet.

This is an issue that hits home as I have had many instances of my work being copied without my permission and published online. I always fight it. I will not allow anyone to get away with violating my copyright. It is my right to publish original works online and to have them respected.

The most recent episode that happened to me involved a well-known and highly placed member of a North American Genealogical Society. This person also wrote a genealogy column for a large American newspaper. I have never talked about it on this blog, and do not intend to give names  but briefly I will share with you the relevant points.

An article I had written and published on my website Olive Tree Genealogy, was copied verbatim and published in an online American newspaper *and* in print - with my name removed as author and replaced with the columnist's name. No attempt had been made to contact me to ask permission and I certainly would not have agreed to someone else's name being put on my original writing. Had the columnist asked my permission to publish my article with my name attached as the author and a link back to my site, I would have agreed. That's called attribution and is the proper ethical way to behave.

My email (low-keyed and polite) to the columnist resulted in a very dismissive response from her. She told me that she "might consider" giving me credit for the IDEA behind her article. Wow. It was my article word for word except for a 3 or 4 words being changed to a similar word such as "suggestion" now being the word "tip". Even the layout was identical.

I don't deal with unreasonable people so my next step was to write to the newspaper editor. I provided the link to my article and the link to the article in his newspaper. His reaction was to immediately pull the online article while he investigated further. The newspaper ethics committee was called in and after much discussion back and forth with me and with the columnist, they agreed "her" article had been copied outright from mine.  She was then dismissed from her position with the newspaper.

The newspaper then printed an apology and retraction in their print version since it had gone to press and could not be stopped. It reached thousands of subscribers. All in all a somewhat happy ending since this person was held accountable by one segment of her genealogy world - the newspaper.

My opinion is we need accountability! We need to accept that there will be consequences to our actions. Unethical behaviour should not be tolerated. And guess what - copyright does exist on the internet! It is no different than if someone writes a book or a song - it is copyright to that individual the minute it is published online or offline. It's not there for the taking and we genealogists need to respect copyright and read the conditions attached to the website we are visiting.  Do they allow for copying for personal use? Do they not allow any reproduction? We must read the copyright policies and follow them.

 There is a lot of discussion among bloggers and webmasters  as to how to handle the rampant unethical behaviour that often occurs.  I urge you to read the following excellent pieces about unethical practices online.

"Copyright, plagiarism, and citing your sources" by Michael Hait at is a must-read

Please also read Dear Myrt's blog post "Is there such a thing as ethical plagiarism?" at

Update: Please also read other bloggers' posts about this important and disturbing issue

How Genealogy Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement Makes Everyone a Loser by Denise Levenick

Time to Name Names by Michele Simmons Lewis

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /


LLG70 said...

Sorry that happened to you but glad for the successful outcome! With those kinds of ethics that person should be a used car salesman or politician :-P

GeniAus said...

Great result, Lorine. Pleased to see the copyright violator got her come uppance.

Elyse said...

Ugh! What a pain in the rear end for you to deal with, Lorine! But I am happy to hear the ending - we all make choices and sometimes, whether we know it or not, we make bad choices and we must face the consequences.

J. Brian Gilchrist said...

hile I whole heartedly agree with you sentiment - and indeed it is regulated by legislation there are two situations which need comment. 1. If we all want accountability and ethics respected, how do we deal with Members of Parliament and indeed Ministers of The Crown that might either fudge the truth, not answer a question directly, or use delay tactics (such as with-holding the 1921 census). The second point is sort of allied to identity theft - but in my case it was worse .... some poor soul was actually trying to impersonate me ... LOL ... Needless the letters started to fly and the situation did resolve itself. The ironic part was he was a very quiet, shy withdrawn and demure type person and for those you who know me, there are some differences. In the Olive Tree situation, it is a shame that people can not be creative enough or savy enough to do their own research and writing and give credit to someone who assisted or germinated the train of thought. Cheers! J. Brian Gilchrist

Beverly Norman said...

You go girl!

Mariann Regan said...

Thanks for this story, Lorine. I am amazed that you got justice. Some people still care about ethics! Your experience motivates me to fight if this happens to me.

Alan Bell said...

Good article Lorine. All researchers and publishers have a responsibility to acknowledge the work of others and seek permission before using that work.

Barbara Brown said...

but...but.. 'Genealogy is for Sharing!'
[ said every person who never bought a book or a CD, never cranked a microfilm, never answered a message board or listserv question].

And plagiarism is not bad - its only words, you know.
That's what the current crop of plagiarist politicians are showing our kids!