Casefile Clues

21 December 2012

Can I Use the 1958 Kile Genealogy and Unbecoming Genealogical Conduct


I love old genealogies--warts and all. 

While any compilation can contain errors, material written fifty or even one hundred years in the past can contain information not available elsewhere. The authors of these materials may have had access to individuals who are now deceased, original records that are no longer extant, and tombstones that have weathered beyond readability. A search of Hathitrust.org located a 1958 book on a family that I am researching.

In the case of this book, there were some images I wanted to use myself and perhaps publish them on my blog or in more traditional print media. However, I simply cannot just use material from a previously published book. One problem with these print materials is "how much and what can I use?" fairly. Another question is "is the material under copyright?" These questions are tied--with copyright dictating.

What Can I Use?

I'm pretty judicious in using someone else's material whether it is still under copyright or not.  I use one sentence and at most two--even if the copyright has expired. And I cite and give credit to the author--copyrighted material or not. All the time. No matter what. One or two sentences are small enough that "fair use" is likely to apply to those items that are still under copyright. If the item is not under copyright, I could use larger portions of it--still using citations because that's simply the aboveboard way to do things. If I wanted to quote a longer passage of material still in copyright, I would ask first

Because I usually like to put my own spin on things, I rarely need more than two sentences of someone else's work. It's the way I operate with my writing, is more ethical, and keeps me generating my own content. It also reduces the chance I get called on the carpet for using someone's material.

Is It Copyrighted?

I wanted to use some images from the 1958 genealogy and a really neat page from the back of the book--more than I have ever used from a book before. I would need permission from the author if the material was still under copyright. I used the copyright chart that appeared in a post on  Judy G. Russell's The Legal Genealogist ("Copyright and the Old Family Photo") as a guide to determining if the book I discovered was subject to copyright or not.  The book indicated it was privately published in 1958. Privately published is still published.  There was no copyright notice included in the book. Using the chart, I determined that the book in the public domain based upon the lack of a copyright notice and the year of publication.

Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist and I had a brief email discussion about a book I had located in digital form. It never hurts to ask, but the chart and the book itself seemed to indicate my use would be ok.

Judy's response to my email on 20 December 2012, read in part:

"It has a very easy answer: anything published between 1923 and 1977 had to have a copyright notice. If it didn't include a copyright notice, then it didn't meet the formalities required for copyright protection and it would have gone into the public domain immediately on publication and would still be in the public domain today."

The fact that this book was immediately in the public domain had not dawned on me until I read Judy's email. 

Hathitrust also indicated that the book was in the public domain. It was good that they agreed with me, but just because they agreed with me does not mean that both of us have to be right. 

The Book?

Kile, Orville Merton, 1886-. A Partial History of the Kyle, Kile, Coyle Family In America: With Some Scotch, Irish, And English Background. Baltimore: Print. by Waverly Press, 1958.


That citation was the one generated by Hathitrust.org. The generation of citations is nice feature of the site even if the citations are not necessarily in Evidence Explained format. It contains all necessary details and, when necessary, I can tweak the citation.

The Title Page
The year of publication is given and there is no copyright notice. So, as noted earlier, I am in the clear to use material from this publication.

We'll be seeing an item or two from this book in future blog posts. I'll always cite anything taken from this book. To use, even out-of-copyright material without citation, is conduct unbecoming a genealogist.

And using copyrighted material without permission is even worse.