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What is "Fair Use", and How Does it Apply to Genealogy Records?

Is it ever alright to use copyrighted material in connection with your own work without the author’s explicit permission?  Like many things, the answer is not black and white – there are some exceptions to the copyright law that allow you to use copyrighted material, including genealogy records, in other pieces of work.  The fair use laws are a good example of these exceptions.

The copyright laws were intended to promote scholarly growth as well as protection for the original author of a work.  To this ends, the fair use laws were created so that original, copyrighted works could be used for some limited educational purposes.  Fair use laws take several factors into consideration when determining if copyright infringement has occurred.  They consider the purpose of using the original content (fair use if primarily for educational use).  Additionally, the amount of original text used is considered as well as its potential effect on the copyrighted material.

One example of fair use is a university professor taking small excerpts from a copyrighted genealogy record and using them in his lecture notes in class.  In this example, the professor used only a small portion of the original copyrighted text and used it for educational purposes.  Note:  Just because it is allowed to use portions of copyrighted text, you still need to ensure that all sources are properly referenced and cited.

As with many copyright laws, the wording was left intentionally vague.  If you are unsure as to whether your usage of a genealogy record constitutes fair use or not, consult a copyright lawyer to assist you in the matter.