Public Publication versus Public Domain

by Linda Okazaki

U.S. copyright law is pretty straightforward. Original work is copyright protected  until it is in the public domain. Blogs are publications and are (usually) original works of authorship. But publishing in a public venue, such as a blog, is NOT the same thing as public domain. Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, addresses the issue of copyright on a regular basis in her own blog ( As genealogists, we learn how important it is to cite our sources. It’s both the legal and the ethical thing to do.

Recently I found numerous pages of my blog “cut-and-pasted” into multiple online trees.  Once something is posted in an online tree, it spreads like wildfire. I’m all for sharing information, but cutting and pasting without asking? That’s just not right. The explanation I received from one “cut-and-paster” was that if I didn’t want my blog reprinted, I shouldn’t have put it on the internet in the first place, because the internet is “public”. Really? Isn’t being public the point of a blog? This blog is public but it is not in the public domain. Blogs are a bit like books. You aren’t supposed to scan an entire book (another topic addressed by Judy Russell) and you are supposed to cite the source. My point is that I want my blog to be public and I am happy to share information if I am asked. But I don’t want to find my work on someone’s public tree unless they have asked for permission to reprint, or at the very least, cited the source. Period.

Okay, I feel much better after that rant.