Ancestry: professional use OK

Last night, in the webinar on Facts, Photos & Fair Use: Copyright Law for Genealogists, I reported on a change in the Ancestry.com terms of service. Previously, the language read:

You are licensed to use the Content only for personal or professional family history research, and may download Content only as search results relevant to that research.

Effective March 24, 2012, the language was changed. As of that date, it read:

You may access the Website, use the graphics, information, data, editorial and other Content only for personal family history research.

This morning, I reached out for ancestry and this is just in as their official response:

In a recent update, the Ancestry.com Terms and Conditions excluded “or professional” as part of the terms of service. This change was in no way intended to exclude professional genealogists from using Ancestry.com in a business or professional setting. Our legal team has reviewed the statement and has reinstated the original text to include “or professional” into Ancestry.com’s Terms and Conditions. We apologize for any misunderstanding. The statement is now updated and reads as follows:

“You may access the Website, use the graphics, information, data, editorial and other Content only for personal or professional family history research, and download Content only as search results relevant to that research.” (Emphasis added)

Kudos to Ancestry.com for its immediate clarification (reserving the right to assess ten lashes with a wet noodle against whoever made the language change in the first place).

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4 Responses to Ancestry: professional use OK

  1. Celia Lewis says:

    One must wonder why the ToS were changed in the first instance — the committee must have had a very loooooong meeting, eh? They need to remember the basic rule: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Thanks for clearing this up and letting us know.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Celia, whoever broke it should be sent to his room without supper. But Ancestry gets a gold star for an immediate fix!

  2. Suzanne says:

    I work in a library and this question has come up. Many of the documents a researcher might find on genealogy websites like Ancestry are in public domain. So for instance if a person uses a census record from 1890, how could Ancestry.com (or one of the other companies) legally limit how the researcher uses it?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Every repository (brick-and-mortar library or website) has the right to set its own terms of use as to copies of things that it owns. Your library, for example, can refuse to let people photograph manuscripts it has in its special collections. This isn’t copyright law — it has nothing to do with whether the item is in the public domain or not. It’s contract law. If you’ll read through the posts here under the category “terms of use,” you’ll get a deeper understanding of this concept.

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