Is A Lookup A Copyright Violation?

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I am currently following a discussion over at GenealogyWise about censorship and there is a very good side discussion pertaining to copyright and the practice of lookups among genealogists.

Very often – since genealogists tend to be a giving sort – you will see people offer to lookup items either from a book they own, a CD they purchased or from an on-line database to which they.  Is a lookup a “random act of genealogical kindness” or a copyright violation?

This does however bring up a whole slew of questions:

  • Do you consider someone who advertises their willingness to do a lookup for anyone as a copyright violator?
  • How do you feel when someone advertises their lookup willingness on a blog post or in a message forum?
  • What if the person owned a CD or a reference book which is currently available and in-print?
  • What if the person was willing to go to a library or archive (or said, “I’ll be there anyway, let me look it up for you . .. “) to do the lookup with publicly available resources?
  • If you were the author or owner of the information source, would you contact the person advertising their lookup services? Have you ever had to deal with the problem of lookups related to your product?

I have had several instances where people will ask me to lookup stuff on one of the many databases to which I subscribe (and for which I pay good money) such as footnote or GenealogyBank.  My practice:  I will only make one lookup if it is convenient for me but I also tell the requestor that they should get their own subscription or go to a library which has access to the database.  I think that if the person gets an idea as to the quality of the information available (by me doing the lookup), then they should try to subscribe on their own.

Ideally, I’d love to see some of these companies have a  “referral code” that I can send to people when I do a lookup.  Something that would give me loyalty points or credits if the person does subscribe on their own so I could eventually use it as a discount towards a renewal or other items on their site.

What has your experience been with lookups and how do you handle such requests?

© 2009, Thomas MacEntee

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