The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 (aka CASE Act). For family researchers and professional genealogists who have a passion for sharing family history, navigating copyright laws is already quite a challenge. If the CASE Act is approved by the Senate, it could open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits and cost us thousands of dollars.
As genealogists, we want to preserve family photos, mementos, etc., and share them with relatives. Over the past 40+ years, my mom has received copies of treasured family portraits that we happily share with other relatives. But now the question becomes…Was the photo taken by a professional photographer? Is the photographer still alive? Is the portrait studio still in business? Who owns the copyright of the original photo? Who has the original photo? Out of fear of violating copyright laws, do we now privatize our family trees to avoid a potential lawsuit?
As I look around my home and the portraits on the wall, I wonder which of these items can I share? Am I violating someone’s copyright by sharing high school portraits of my parents and grandmothers? Can I “publish” my own senior portrait in my family tree or even on Facebook? How do these laws affect the 1917 wedding portrait of my great grandparents and the later reproduction my great grandfather had made several years after his wife’s death. I have some research to do to find the answers to these questions.
The 2012 blog Copyright and the old family photo by Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, may help answer some of these questions. I will be keeping on an eye on her website as I’m sure she will be able to provide more insight on how the CASE Act will impact us.