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What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and How Does it Pertain to Genealogy?

Obtaining free genealogy records has changed throughout the last couple decades.  Copyright laws have been updated and genealogy search capabilities have been increased.  Additionally, access to information has become much easier for the majority of people, thanks to internet, cell phones, and computer technology.  Because of this, the United States has developed new laws for which material is and is not copyrighted.

One of the more recent laws is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which went into effect in 1998 in the U.S.).  This law was created in order to make copyright laws consistent with the technology that was currently in place (and future technologies that hadn’t yet been conceived).  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (abbreviated as DMCA) acts in connection with current copyright laws to make it against the law to use technology to assist in breaking copyright laws.  This law also increases the severity of copyright infringement online.

When obtaining free genealogy records online, you need to ensure that what you are using is really free and in the public domain.  Don’t take the website’s word for it – verify it for yourself.  Because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, you are even more responsible for avoiding copyright infringement during your genealogy search than ever – especially online.  Also, be aware that if something is copyrighted, even if it is reproduced or made available online, all of the same copyright laws still apply to it.  As always, if you are in doubt about the copyright laws for a specific document, consult a copyright attorney to help you resolve the matter.