Ancestry.com now labeled evil due to copyright claim cheap shot

In a strange update to this story, government files obtained through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) have been claimed to be copyrighted.

Jason Colavito notes it in this piece:

the Black Vault database of Project Blue Book was taken down after Ancestry.com asserted that it owns the copyright (!) to the Air Force’s UFO files, an impossibility since by law United States government files cannot be copyrighted. Fortunately, the searchable Project Blue Book Archive is still up and running (at least until Ancestry.com tells them they own government records, too).

The Project BlueBook files, however, are still available to the public through official sites, just not sorted in the same way. A commenter on Colavito’s post gives these links:
http://vault.fbi.gov/UFO
http://www.foia.cia.gov/collection/ufos-fact-or-fiction
https://www.nsa.gov/public_info/declass/ufo/

The owner of Black Vault explains:

John Greenewald, owner of The Black Vault, has sent out this statement:

January 29th, 2015 – It is with great frustration to announce, that Ancestry.com, and their subsidiary Fold3, has laid down a claim to copyright on the Project Blue Book material – which has long been labeled as “public domain” by the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).   Ancestry.com is claiming ownership to the digital version of this material – despite me having records that Fold3 doesn’t even have in their archive and I received under the FOIA starting back in 1996.  They simply claimed it was 100% theirs and I was forced to remove it.

Rather strange indeed. Greenewald said “they offered I become a member of their affiliate program – and offer a link to them in exchange for a portion of sales generated. ie: You have to sign up with them, pay a membership, and they give me a percentage.” He declined. Sounds like a low blow and is another example of bigger companies trampling over the smaller independent people. Or perhaps something else is going on? It’s not clear what the motivation is for this except maybe money.

  6 comments for “Ancestry.com now labeled evil due to copyright claim cheap shot

  1. February 10, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    I haven’t seen the actual claim made by Ancestry, but what often happens in these cases is the DMCA claims are made by an outsourced intellectual property law firm or sometimes even a robot. In the robotic case, it will just scan for duplication of documents published on their site, and if they haven’t instructed the robots to ignore certain documents it will request ridiculous takedowns like this.

    This happens on YouTube with licensed music – the owner of the music will use a signature system to file a claim against your video, even you’ve paid a license fee. Thus it is very important to understand (and not be shy about using) the counter-claim or dispute process on these claims.

  2. Robert
    February 10, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    I am a pianist, and I get similarly worded notices whenever I sit down at my own piano, play something written by Chopin (for example) and upload it to YouTube.

    It’s a scam by a third party, and may have little to do with Ancestry.com despite their name referenced on the letter. Just respond with a “We are not infringing” or ignore it.

  3. Tony
    February 10, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    I think it’s odd that Greenewald caved so quickly instead of fighting back, which makes me suspect that he could be seeking publicity and/or has a martyr complex like so many other purveyors of the UFO woo.

    Of course I could be totally wrong, but until reading this article I’d never heard of Greenewald and now I do. And he got a page hit from me, which is a win/win for him and only a very minor distraction for me.

  4. Dora
    February 10, 2015 at 3:08 PM

    If Fold3 (Footnote) digitized the images 8 years ago and Greenwald used those digitized images on his website then I can understand where the rub is. The originals are available, why doesn’t he do his own scans instead of stealing from another website?

  5. CLamb
    February 10, 2015 at 7:55 PM

    I don’t think digitizing an existing document creates a new one under U.S. copyright law. There must be creative intent–not just a change in form or encoding.

  6. Dora
    February 10, 2015 at 8:08 PM

    Where is the information that Ancestry is claiming a copyright violation coming from? Their legal department is most likely citing a violation of T&C, rather than copyright. The originals are in the public domain, but what they digitize and place on their site would be protected by the T&C. If you are a user of their website you can’t just pull an entire collection off of their website and add them to your own website. From their T&C:
    “Ancestry does not claim an exclusive right to images already in the public domain that it has converted into a digital format. However, the Websites contain images or documents that are protected by copyrights or that, even if in the public domain, are subject to restrictions on reuse. By agreeing to these Terms and Conditions, you agree to not reuse these images or documents except that you may reuse public domain images so long as you only use small portions of the images or documents for personal use. If you republish public domain images, you agree to credit the relevant Ancestry Website as the source of the digital image, unless additional specific restrictions apply. If you wish to republish more than a small portion of the images or documents from any of the Websites, you agree to obtain prior written permission from us.”

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