Is it Copyrighted?
Copyright laws vary by country, but for most countries the basic premises are the same:
- facts and data can not be copyrighted
- narration, compilations and creative works are protected by copyright
Copyright law in the U.S. does not protect data, only the presentation of the data. This is an important point for genealogists, because it means that facts (names, dates, places, etc.) presented in a standard format, such as a pedigree chart or GEDCOM file, are not protected by copyright. However, if you take this data and present it in your own unique format, such as a narrative, then the presentation of the material is protected by copyright, even when the facts are not. Large, original compilations of facts can also be protected by copyright - such as in the case of genealogical data CDs. You can enter a fact from such a CD into your database and it is free for use, but you can not legally reproduce the entire content of the CD. Public records in the U.S. are also not protected by copyright laws. This means that information copied from vital records, tombstones, court records, etc. are considered facts and cannot be copyrighted.
Not all creative works are protected by copyright laws. Original, published works created prior to 1923 are no longer covered by copyright. Some works created after 1922 may also not be eligible for copyright protection, but this takes careful research to verify. In general, it is best to assume that such works are protected unless they include a statement to the contrary.