Open letter to Commercial Genealogy Companies

18 February 2016

To whom it may concern:

I am writing today in the hope that you can take action over a very important issue. As a subscription-based service provider, your company has invested time and money digitising, transcribing and indexing records for the benefit of those of us who are keen (whether it be amateur or professional) family historians. We – a large proportion of the genealogical community – very much appreciate and value the work your companies are doing on our behalf to make more records available to us online (whilst continuing to enjoy the times when we have to ‘get our hands dirty’ with original documents and sources which are not available on our new-fangled gizmos). The rate at which you are adding resources is simply staggering and well worth the subscription fees we pay to access these records.

However, some people appear to have access of these records we pay for, without paying. How, you may ask? And you would be right to ask….! Do these characters have clever ways of hacking into your sites without paying? Are there flaws in your security systems? No and no.

These individuals are far from clever. They neither value nor respect the work that you are doing for the genealogical community and consider it their right to have free access to what they want. I wonder – would they expect to have a case heard in court, be represented by a solicitor and pay nothing? I am sure their plumbing and heating engineer would not turn up, fix their boiler and walk away without being paid. So, why is your service any different?

It isn’t. You have terms and conditions, fair usage policies, copyright restrictions and more, all available on your websites. Recently, two of The In-Depth Genealogist team interviewed Jill Ball, Judy G. Russell and I about exactly this topic. We expressed our concerns about Facebook groups offering look-ups from your websites and today, a vocal few tried to educate members of one Facebook group about the T&Cs they signed up to when they paid for their membership. It was clear that our comments were not welcomed by certain members of the group and a few individuals appear to think that they are ‘providing a service’ to the genealogical community by giving others free access. An interesting perspective when they are breaching the conditions of use…. When these individuals were politely directed to these conditions, they seemed to think that the appropriate course of action was not to read the conditions and consider their obligations, but to criticise the people who were trying to assist in the group, before removing their posts and then blocking the vocal members of the community.

The problem is, my dear Commercial Genealogy Company, that none of you jump up and down and do anything about these breaches. OK. I get it. You want all the genealogists to use your websites. You want us all to be your friends out here in genie-land. BUT, you are losing revenue because these individuals are providing copies of your records to others for free. If you banned a handful of people for ‘misuse of their subscription’ (or whatever you want to call it) and named and shamed them, more people would use your sites because they can no longer get what they want for nothing.

We – the respectful genealogical population – are trying to support you out here. I would urge you to get your moles out as well as listen to and act on the issues reported by the community. Join these Facebook groups and flush out the people/group who are breaking your rules. If you don’t, we will all suffer and the only winners in this game will be these who are getting their research done for nought.

Yours sincerely, A Seriously Concerned Genealogist.

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