Updated 4 Sep 2003

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Copyright problems in genealogy are immense and can cause much anger. The subject has occasionally "flared up" on the DERBYSGEN mailing list. Here are a few e-mails (or extracts) on the subject that seem (to this author) to be talking sense. Readers wanting more definitive answers to their problems should consult their lawyer and be prepared to pay for the privilege.
Please realise that there is no quick answer to the Copyright problem. If you want to know a bit about the subject, you have a lot of reading ahead of you!

                   Crown Copyright
For further information on Crown copyright policy and licensing
 arrangements, see the guidance featured on HMSO's website at: 
or consult the PRO copyright guidelines at:
(------and click on "copyright guidelines)
From:  Robert Higginson (poplar@ntlworld.com)  
Subject:  Re: [DBY] Derbyshire Records Office Matlock 
Date:  Wed, 3 Sep 2003 01:00:33 +0100 
To:  (DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com)  

A few years ago, the Gilbert and Sullivan operas came back into copyright
when Britain changed from the earlier 50 year rule to the EU 70 year rule.
I think G&S is now out of copyright again.

And it is almost certainly illegal to photocopy printed sheet music even if
of composers such as Bach. But you can write out (or print using a drawing
program on the computer) your own sheet music and photocopy that as much as
you like. The point here is copyright to the artwork as opposed to the
actual music. But you may be infringing the intellectual property rights
of an arranger, so you still have to be careful.

(http://www.finalemusic.com/notepad/ for information about Finale Notepad,
the freeware baby in the Finale range. The latest version is quite good,
and easier than a drawing package. But that is off topic.)

So the Public Records Office (as a branch of the Government and thus of the
Crown) retains an indefinite artwork copyright on the Census. Which is what
cost ACDB so much to copy the 1861 Census. But the information in the
Census is public domain and out of copyright.

So you may NOT legally post the original page of the Census as a picture
file on any family tree web site you may have. But you can legally copy the
information out and create a web page including the information as text
which you have typed in. You then own the copyright to the web page as a
work of art, but you do not own the data you have published in that page.
However, if you get that data from whatever source, it is common courtesy to
acknowledge the source, and thank someone for their work.

Similarly with Parish Records. As an Estate of the Realm, the Church of
England (in the person of the Vicar or Rector of a Parish) holds perpetual
copyright on the manuscript Parish Record as artwork. But the information
is not copyright. But a transcription as a work of art has a copyright
vested in the transcriber. So you may NOT post on your web site either the
manuscript Parish Record nor a scanned picture of a transcription. But you
can legally type out the information and include that on your web page, and
you then become the copyright owner of that web page as a work of art (or
literary composition) though the information is public property.

Robert Higginson

[Robert Higgenson adds a disclaimer:
"What I said is not as an expert in law but as a lay-person.
This is not an authoratitive statement and I accept no responsibility
for any errors.]
From:  st (Stuartj@talk21.com) 
Subject:  Re: [DBY] Derbyshire Records Office Matlock 
Date:  Tue, 2 Sep 2003 12:03:35 +0100 
To:  (DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com)  

We should remember that copyright law is different in different places.
There is a 'EU' copyright convention and the UK law follows this. It lasts,
from memory, for 70 years after the death of the author. It applies to
published material and needs to be asserted or claimed. It is difficult to
apply in some cases and mere rearrangement of data may not be sufficient to
create new material that does not infringe an original copyright. The cases
that get the most publicity seem to be in the music industry where copyright
is fiercely guarded. When it comes to cross border disputes it is very
difficult to lay down principles.
Stuart Jamieson
From:  Richard Turner (owltrees@onetel.net.uk) 
Subject:  [DBY] Re: DRO and copyright 
Date:  Mon, 1 Sep 2003 15:13:59 +0100 
To:  (DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com)  
Reply-To:  owltrees@yahoo.co.uk 

Jayne and the list: I have so far kept out of this exchange. On the one hand, I do
consider the current tangle over copyright farcical. No two people or institutions
seem to understand or interpret it the same way, for a start. As others have
observed, who shld be entitled to inf. on one's ancestors, if not oneself - which
makes restrictions on publishing wills, PR entries and the like a nonsense as I see
it. Part sof Yorkshire in particular, and Notts. too I gather, have some especially
obscurantist PCCs and incumbents who seem to think that parting with historical PR
information is akin to doing their dirty washing in public - one wonders how many of
these officious persons even originate in the localities over whose records they
seem to have arbitrary control.

Furthermore, the shameful blindness of all from nat. govt to local churches and
cathedrals to the tragic progressive destruction of a totally unique archive - MIs,
I mean, where often these are laid down for people to walk on, or taken away in case
someone does a US-style compensation claim for a stubbed toe - makes one realise
that the more publicity records are given, the safer for their preservation. As for
the amours-propres of custodian organisations, I have said before that at a meeting
of the Derbyshire Record Society VCH project a few yrs ago, when the issue of costly
VCH material being put free online arose, and I raised the matter of using copyright
restrictions to charge for its use, I was laughed to scorn for my naivety in
imagining that in this age of the internet, it was worth even considering the
feasibility of such restrictions.

Having said all of that, I share the dismay of several contributors at attacks on
Mrs O'Sullivan and the DRO. I use numerous ROs, diocesan archives both Anglican and
R. Catholic, several national libraries from the Bod. and the British Library
outwards, and have to say that DRO are second to none in my experience for
progressive and helpful attitudes, communications, courtesy and customer service in

Richard Turner
From:  John Green (john@term.nl) 
Subject:  Re: [DBY] parish registers and copyright 
Date:  Mon, 1 Sep 2003 09:57:45 +0200 
To:  (DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com)  

Hi People,

I've followed this argument over the last few days without comment but now
feel moved to write.

The question of copyright seems to come up every couple of months (see
messages around 18-20 June for example), then resurfaces when someone else
discovers that they're being limited in what they wish to do. The question
of Crown copyright has been extensively discussed by Rob there.

What everything on copyright seems to boil down to is:

Unpublished public records, e.g. BMD data, held by the PROs is either free
of copyright or copyright is waived

Permission to publish must be obtained for material held in the offices
which is not subject to Crown copyright.

Inclusion of copyright-free or copyright-waived material from public records
by transcription is allowed: copyright on the material then rests with the
person who transcribed into the particular form (this is what DRO is
complaining about: they've put time into transcribing material into a list,
therfore hold copyright and are not prepared to have others include the list
in exactly the same format on their website. The usual procedure would then
be to substitute a link to the DRO page in question, although DRO should be
asked and can refuse this; an alternative is reformatting/re-transcription
of the list in question).

Copyright on parish records (BMD) is held by the incumbent: some will allow
publication, some won't (e.g. Sheffield Cathedral). For data before 1837
(after for baptisms) you have to talk to the local vicar. He, or his
predecessor, hold copyright because they "reformatted" the data.

Can we now drop this subject?


Velp, The Netherlands
From:  Gaynor Kirkby (gkirkby@ihug.co.nz) 
Subject:  Re: [DBY] Derbyshire Records Office Matlock 
Date:  Mon, 1 Sep 2003 17:08:54 +1200 
To:  (DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com)  

I am one of eight people transcribing shipping records from LDS films with
the permisson of the Public Record of Victoria (PROV) and the Genealogical
Society of Utah. We obtained permission to transcribe and market them from
the Public Record Office and they were delighted they were being done. They
had one stipulation in that they were to be acknowledged as copyright
holders of the original records as they were the official custodians, or
word to that effect.

The LDS had no problem with us transcribing them from the film as long as
we had permission from PROV. As I understand it, the New Zealand Society of
Genealogist will have copyright over the transcription work as it is not an
exact copy of the original, although it holds all data. It had to be adapted
for the computer and also the computer indexes it. I think thats the

Gaynor Kirkby
From:  (billiedawson@waitrose.com) 
Subject:  copyright 
Date:  Sat, 30 Aug 2003 15:58:42 +0100 
To:  (John.Palmer@wirksworth.org.uk)  

Dear John,

Like you we are on several lists and this topic has been covered on most of
them in detail!

We sympathise with you about this situation. We think that a way round it
would be to re-write the info. with small changes, e.g. abbreviations and
with the odd input of your own. Perhaps with a church address or similar.
This would then be your own transcription.
If I am right in assuming that it is a list of the parishes and their
registers this is also on the website of the Soc. of Gen.( at least the ones
that they hold copies of.)
It may be that a description of the churches is a bridge too far, and this
would be a major effort to compose your own.

When it comes to parish registers the current view is that as they are
individual entries rather than written works their is no copyright even for
the parish priest. A transcription however belongs to the person making it.

Hope this may help,

best wishes,

Fred and Billie Dawson, Berkshire.
From:  Jo (jo@stumpypost.co.uk) 
Subject:  RE: [DBY] Copyright 
Date:  Fri, 29 Aug 2003 20:20:30 +0100 
To:  (DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com)  

UK libraries allow no more than 5% of a single published document to be
photocopied (however in my experience none police this! I just spent my
2wk summer hols in upwards of 8 UK libraries/county study centres
copying census and parish info for my own use and was never challenged
nor charged apart from the actual copies using the machine..and the
librarians even counted the copies I'd taken)

The key is to understand that the information itself cannot be
copyrighted...you cannot lay claim to the fact that someone was
born/married/died on a particular date..it would be ridiculous for an
individual to try and claim copyright on that information....the
difficulty comes when you re-use work someone else has done..i.e.
transcribing it painstakingly at their own cost and time, then you copy
it electronically into your own database in the same format and re-use
it for commercial endeavour. Put yourself in their position..they've
taken the trouble over weeks/months/years even to do this onerous job
and put it into a nice searchable format and quite rightly hope to make
a few pounds from their efforts - then someone copies their
transcription electronically and offers it out for free...I'd be pretty
unhappy I guess!

I'm not an expert but my husband is an IT Services Director in media and
publishing so he does tend to know a bit about this stuff! Just
remember...the info itself is not copyrightable..the fact they are
"public records" tells you enough..its the work thats gone into making
it available that is protectable. It is available to anyone free of
charge if they've got time to sit in a UK library for days on end.....if
not then I think its fair we pay a small fee towards someone elses'
efforts to make it electronically available in the comfort of your own

Lets hope a sensible legal bod puts us all properly right soon!
From:  Jo (jo@stumpypost.co.uk) 
Subject:  RE: [DBY] Derbyshire Parish Registers 
Date:  Fri, 29 Aug 2003 09:24:02 +0100 
To:  (DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com)  

Before this rapidly becomes the subject of an off-topic wrist-slap
(!)..no one can copyright public records data. Even Crown
Copyright/Public Records Act clauses state no action is taken unless
data is abused etc.

The reason we (public) have to pay for accessing many internet/or
cd-based census type/parish records is because we are paying for the
time/costs it has taken that organisation (whether it be govt or private
endeavour) to put the information in a searchable/readable format - and
maintain it so it always quickly accessible...they have the copywrite on
that piece of work but NOT on the data itself. Thats why you can walk
into most major libraries and access the whole UK BMD's for free on
fiche! (If you have the time, which most people don't- so we all
sometimes need to pay for a company to have done some formatting &
searchability for us). Do Matlock think they have records of BMD's in
the UK that don't already exist on fiche?!

It is public data. Putting into another usable format is another matter
and one for commercial endeavour within which copywrite can take place
on the work completed, if the proper channels are followed and the work
meets the criteria.

There are 000's of websites all claiming copywrite to the basic data
listed therein and frightening people to death, this holds no legal
force or entitlement to the BMD information itself...just wording
deployed to put any would-be commercial entrepreneurs from copying it
and using the site's own search-capability for their own ends.


Compiled, formatted, hyperlinked, encoded, and copyright © 2003, John Palmer, All Rights Reserved.