Sadly, like many other online publishers I am constantly attacked by varmints of one kind or another. Tonight I want to talk about the most insidious type of blood sucking leech – the Ancestry thief.

I have just spent several days tracking down dozens of examples of material to which I own the copyright but which have been blatantly copied to Ancestry. This is not just an Ancestry user issue though. A few years ago it was a person who knew very well (due to their professional capacity) that copying anyone’s posts was not on, but still decided to copy my posts to Wikitree. Sure, there was also a link to one post that was stolen but that didn’t make the theft ok. It’s like going into a pub and trying to sell a knocked off phone but it’s somehow better because you brag about the provenance.

I do have to say firstly that Ancestry have a relatively easy way to have breach of copyright information taken down, and they have been very quick (less than 48 hours) to respond to and action my reports. The second positive is that when the copyright material is shared within Ancestry, all those images are all linked to that original upload. So when Ancestry delete one item, all are deleted. This is a welcome thing as some screenshots of my (this) website had been shared, 44, 50 and 84 times! Yes, you read that right. 84 gullible people fenced the stolen goods without a care in the world. So this is not a problem with Ancestry as such, but the users. The lack of emphasis that is put on copyright and the ease of sharing things without having to prove the provenance IS an Ancestry issue. It would be far better for each upload to require an individual declaration of copyright ownership or that the image is out of copyright before it is accepted. Then Ancestry COULD also have a process to censure or remove the user who breaches copyright. As part of the reporting process I have asked for perpetrators to be removed from Ancestry.

It is however, a totally reactive process where the copyright owner has to have a subscription to Ancestry in order to see the items that have been reported to them, and to give the correct links to Ancestry in order for them to be taken down, and it appears that a member can just go ahead and upload the same thing after it has been removed. Another fun fact is that as shared images are linked, any comment made on the image about the copyright breach, will appear in every tree, and each tree owner will receive notification of that comment. I made a comment to the effect of the copyright breach on 15 individual images three days ago, each shared to a minimum of 20 other trees. Let’s just guess that as they were all within the same family and there was a high degree of overlap, that 50 individuals received notification of those comments. NOT A SINGLE ONE of those people responded to the comment or contacted me, so don’t think for a second that appealing to the good nature of Ancestry tree owners will solve the problem.

Now I know a lot of people are going to chime in that they wouldn’t know where a screenshot came from or other [insert pathetic excuse here]. Well maybe you should ask before you behave like sheep. And maybe, you should actually look at the screen shot that clearly shows the website that it came from and have some individual thought. Yep, that is what has happened in four of the cases I have reported today. Clear screenshots of my website and in one case an added mention of the time and date and website it was stolen from. My website has right click turned off but that hasn’t stopped dozens of people from taking and publishing screen shots. What do you people actually think copyright means???

So lets talk about the breached material I have found in the last few days. 

  • Three university assignments
  • Five known full screenshots of this website
  • Dozens of photos snipped
  • A stolen eulogy

The university assignments were done in the late 1990s and a printed copy was given to one relative only for personal interest, but they decided to bignote themselves by photocopying it and distributing it widely. Luckily the document had my name and student ID number at the top of every page. In response to the first time someone posted this online, I put the entire work (even though it was outdated) on this website to assert my intellectual right over the work. This has stood me in good stead in having the scans of it removed by Ancestry. It has not however, prevented that same person repeatedly uploading the documents after Ancestry has removed them.

The screenshots are self explanatory. An annotated map here and there, half a page of a post – repeatedly. The variety of screen shots is endless but they are clear images of this site and as mentioned, include dates and other info on when and from where they were stolen.

The photos are also self explanatory. Where a group photo was stolen, that photo was then dissected and headshots of individuals were posted on their Ancestry tree profile. This is where it becomes a bit trickier. A photo of 5 people can end up being 6 individual images. Ancestry will however recognise this and take down both the full image and the cropped individualised image where you point to the cropped images. The other thing about photos to note for people bleating about not knowing, is that the original thief has cropped out the copyright notice on each image. [Yes, all my images in question were taken post 1954 and I was given the original slides in a direct line of succession]. The cropping out of the inconvenient copyright notice points to the culpability of the thief.

The eulogy. What can I say? The eulogy was written by myself for my grandmother’s funeral. A hard copy was given to 2 relatives. Somehow I had the sense to put myself at the top as the author. So what’s wrong with that you say? I didn’t give permission for my thoughts or my writing to be used in any other way except by myself at that funeral. Nevertheless it was a relative who decided that the public forum of Ancestry was a good place for an intimate heartfelt outpouring of love and grief that was meant for the gathering of around 30 close people. I can’t remember how many times the printed eulogy was shared to trees owned by people who had never met my grandmother but were just collecting stuff about people without any meaning. Apparently there is a new game based on “who dies with the most irrelevant stuff about people they were related to with 17 degrees of separation“.

So what else can an aggrieved writer and publisher do about egregious breaches of copyright? You can play their game. They like to publish your stuff illegally, I will publish their names and identities here. I’m sure they’ll notice eventually as a few seem to be frequent visitors to this website. Don’t like being named and shamed? That’s like saying you don’t want to be held accountable for fencing the stolen phone at the pub. Tonight we’ll start with the latest website thief. This screenshot was sent to me by a person who first notified me of the breached content, before I even had an Ancestry subscription. Congratulations lizbeth55 for your relentless screenshotting and illegal sharing of so many posts on this website. Later I’ll identify the uploader of the eulogy and university assignments.

I’ve taken note of all 95 Ancestry profiles who have shared the various copyright material that Lizbeth55 uploaded. Some would be very aware of where the data has come from as I have been in contact with them. If they upload the deleted material again, I’ll have more ammunition for Ancestry, I’ll post their profiles here and they will be blocked from any further communication or assistance.

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