Legal Affairs

Newspaper Archive Inc. pays $100,000 for Deceptive Online Practices

NA_LogoStackedIn the June 24, 2014 newsletter, I published an article entitled Heritage Microfilm and Under State Review After Complaints. The article is still available at Newspaper Archive Inc. provides online access to digitized newspapers from across the country. The company’s customers are mostly genealogists, historians, and others interested in retrieving old newspaper articles. The article stated:

“Heritage Microfilm and, 855 Wright Brothers Blvd., Suite 2A, [Cedar Rapids, Iowa] are accused in dozens of complaints filed with the state and the Better Business Bureau of not allowing subscribers to cancel services, refusing to grant refunds and failing to answer calls or emails.”

It took a while but the case has now been settled.

Ancestry Releases Transparency Report, Updated Privacy Statement and Guide for Law Enforcement

Ancestry has released the first Ancestry Transparency Report, which covers law enforcement requests to Ancestry sites for member data in 2015. Yes, the law enforcement folks are spying on you and on other genealogists.

The announcement in the Ancestry Blog states, in part: “As we continue to make our members’ privacy a priority, our intent in issuing this report is to help explain to our members and the public the types of law enforcement requests Ancestry and its family of companies received, how we responded, and the nature of the investigations that sparked those requests. With each request, we continue to represent the rights of our members and always advocate strongly for their privacy.”

You can read the full article in the Ancestry Blog at

Diary of Anne Frank Subject To Copyright Dispute

A legal case involving the Diary of Anne Frank may affect many other publications, even including genealogy books published in the United States and many other countries.

Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager killed by the Nazis whose writing survived in the Amsterdam building where she had hidden. 70 years have passed since her death. As the author, she owned the copyrights. After her death, the copyrights are legally passed on her heirs. In this case, Anne Frank’s heirs were her parents and, later, other relatives who would inherit the property and the rights of the parents. Under European laws, any book published at that time becomes public domain 70 years after publication.

A French academic has made the Diary of Anne Frank available online with profits going to charity. However, the Anne Frank Fonds, the foundation established by Anne’s father Otto Frank, claims that: “Otto Frank and children’s author and translator, Mirjam Pressler, were inter alia responsible for the various edited versions of fragments of the diary” in 1947 and 1991. They add: “the copyrights to these adaptations have been vested in Otto Frank and Mirjam Pressler, who in effect created readable books from Anne Frank’s original writings.” In other words, the book should not be considered to be in the public domain today.

“Certified Genealogist®” Officially Registered with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The following announcement was written by the Board for Certification of Genealogists:

bcg-logoOn December 8, 2015, the Board for Certification of Genealogists™(BCG) obtained official registration of “Certified Genealogist®” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This registration offers several legal benefits such as:

  • the right to use the federal registration symbol ® for Certified Genealogist,
  • a legal presumption of ownership of the mark and the exclusive right to use it nationwide,
  • it allows the owner to bring a federal lawsuit against infringers and recover damages and attorney’s fees, and
  • a means of stopping “cybersquatters” from registering a domain name using the mark.

Controversy about the Providence, Rhode Island, City Archivist

Paul Campbell, Providence, Rhode Island’s veteran city archivist, has been the center of controversy for a while. In November, he was suspended with pay by the city council. A few days later, he was fired.

The reasons for being fired have not been publicly announced but Campbell does have a checkered past with involvement in city politics. For instance, Campbell served six months in prison after he pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury about a kickback he paid former Pawtucket Mayor Brian Sarault in 1990.

Last month, Campbell’s office unveiled a portrait of former Providence mayor and two-time felon Buddy Cianci at Providence City Hall. Cianci was Providence’s longest-serving mayor with 21 years in city hall. But he was forced from office twice, first in 1984 with his no contest plea for assaulting a man with a fireplace log, ashtray and a lit cigarette. Cianci’s second administration ended in 2002 with a 4 1/2-year prison term for racketeering conspiracy. Archivist Paul Campbell and the now-discredited Mayor Cianci apparently were good friends.

You can find a few dozen news stories that were published in the weeks before and a few days after Campbell’s dismissal by starting at

Now the Board Members of the Rhode Island Genealogical Society have published a letter “To Whom It May Concern.” The Board of Directors is concerned that the city’s politicians apparently are planning to eliminate the position of the Providence City Archivist and also plan to remove the City Archives from the responsibility of the City to some unknown “non-profit.”

Here is the letter:

U.S. 2020 Census Will Be Done by Internet

iCensus2020Technology is replacing a lot of things: landline phones, television armoires, pocket pagers, election paper ballots, and now paper census forms. The U.S. Census Bureau expects to use the Internet — plus smart phones and perhaps some other technologies yet to be invented — for the next decennial census, in 2020. Welcome to iCensus2020!

The primary reason for the change is to save money. The 2010 Census cost taxpayers $96 per household, including the American Community Survey that has now replaced the old long form. The cost of taking the census has more than doubled in two decades, up from $70 per household in 2000 and $39 as recently as 1990. The 2020 Census undoubtedly would cost more if it relied on paper forms.

Indiana House of Representatives to Consider an Open Records Bill

In 1941, Indiana enacted a law that sealed all original birth certificates and adopted records from public access. This restriction also applied even to adopted children, which means without written approval from the State Board of Health, it was nearly impossible for adopted children to find out who their parents were. The law, however, was modified in 1993 to allow current adoptive children access to their original records, but no provisions were made for the children whose adoptions took place prior to 1994. The records are still unobtainable.

Pam Kroskie has created a non-profit organization, called Hoosiers for Equal Access Records (HEAR). A bill was drafted that would extend record access for those seeking records from 1941 onward. The Indiana Senate approved the bill in the summer, but when it made it to the floor of the House, progress stalled. Files a Trademark Case Against DNA Diagnostics Center for the Marketing of “AncestryByDNA”

DNA expert CeCe Moore has written about a trademark infringement law suit involving DNA testing that has been filed in the Ohio Southern District Court in Cincinnati. The article may be found in CeCe’s Your Genetic Genealogist blog at

Canada’s New Government Restores the Mandatory Long Census Forms

Canada’s new Liberal government is reinstating the mandatory long-form census that was scrapped by the Conservatives five years ago. “We need good, reliable data,” said Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains, who made the announcement on Parliament Hill.

A promise to “immediately” restore the long-form census was one of the planks in the Liberal Party’s platform during the recent federal election. The announcement came one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his new cabinet was sworn in.

Cops are Asking and 23andMe for their Customers’ DNA

This news surely will spawn court cases involving privacy and Constitutional provisions regarding self-incrimination. According a story by Kashmir Hill in the web site, “‘Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect,’ warns Wired, writing about a case from earlier this year, in which New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry became a suspect in an unsolved murder case after cops did a familial genetic search using semen collected in 1996. The cops searched an database and got a familial match to a saliva sample Usry’s father had given years earlier. Usry was ultimately determined to be innocent and the Electronic Frontier Foundation called it a ‘wild goose chase’ that demonstrated “the very real threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by law enforcement access to private genetic databases.”

Google Book-Scanning Project is Legal, According to a U.S. Appeals Court

A U.S. appeals court has ruled that Google’s massive effort to scan millions of books for an online library does not violate copyright law, rejecting claims from a group of authors that the project illegally deprives them of revenue. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected infringement claims from the Authors Guild and several individual writers, and found that the project provides a public service without violating intellectual property law.

A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said the case “tests the boundaries of fair use,” but found Google’s practices were ultimately allowed under the law. The ruling will encourage Google to continue adding digital images of books to the Google Books web site. Wins its Petition of the NYC Municipal Archives Using Freedom of Information Law

In the September 9, 2015 newsletter, I wrote about the petition of Brooke Schreier Ganz and in trying to obtain what should have been public domain records from the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DoRIS). Now there is good news: the petition was granted!

Reclaim The Records has won its first legal case, winning access to over 600,000 never-before-public genealogical records!

Details may be found at and in Avotaynu Online at

Follow-up: Century-Old Photos Found In Stolen Car now Returned to Owner

This is a follow-up to my earlier article at about a stolen car recovered by Colorado Springs police. The police found a black memory box inside the car containing photos, postcards and letters. Some of the photos date back to 1918. The police have now located the owner of the memory box.

Crime analysts did a genealogy search using names on the photographs. They traced the family to Elbert and Englewood with names including Moberly, Peterson, and Smith. The Colorado Springs Police Department is now returning the box to the owner.

How One Person Can Make a Difference–Litigation Against the NYC Municipal Archives Using Freedom of Information Law

The following information should interest all genealogists researching ancestors in the U.S. While this case is about the State of New York, the results may affect all the other states:

This past Thursday, September 3, 2015, a legal petition was filed at the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York. Brooke Schreier Ganz and [Petitioner] vs. New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DoRIS) [Respondent]. DoRIS is the parent organization of the New York City Municipal Archives. The petition was made under Article 78 of New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). FOIL allows for public access to records created in the course of government agency business, provided the requestor is willing to pay fair costs for copies. This is believed to be the first time a genealogist has tried to use FOIL to force public vital records back into the public domain. See below for more information.

A petition is different than a lawsuit. A petition is a formal application made to a court in writing that requests action made to a governing body, (such as a judge in this case), requesting action on a certain matter. A lawsuit cites wrongs and asks for damages. The right to petition is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, where the people were given the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances. (

What the Request For Records Is About

Brooke Schreier Ganz is a genealogist and computer programmer living in California, but with New York roots. She is seeking access to copies of the 1908-1929 index to marriage licenses and affidavits, a series originally kept by the NYC City Clerk’s office, now stored at the NYC Municipal Archives. (The dates on these records are usually a few weeks before the actual marriage took place.)

Century-Old Photos Found In Stolen Car

The recovery of a stolen car has led to another mystery. Century-old items were found inside, but cannot be linked to any current theft case. Colorado Springs police say they found a black memory box inside the car containing photos, postcards and letters. Some of the photos date back to 1918.

The Colorado Springs Police Department crime analysts were able to trace the family to Elbert and Englewood, both in Colorado. They’ve come up three family names connected to the items: Moberly, Peterson and Smith. But now they’ve hit a dead end: detectives haven’t been able to link the box or family names to any current stolen property.

Can a genealogist help?

Requesting Public Records? Depending on the State, That Could Cost Money

This will be an issue for genealogists. Tennessee may become the latest state to start charging a fee for the time it takes to fulfill a public records request, a practice that’s emerging in some states and one that opponents say simply aims to discourage requests.

This fall, the Tennessee Office of Open Record Counsel will conduct several public hearings on charging a fee for the search and retrieval of public records. While the state can already charge for copies of public records, inspection is generally free. But earlier this year, the state’s School Board Association pushed legislation proposing an hourly labor charge for public records request (with no charge for the first hour of labor). The legislation, which was tabled until next year, also stipulated that the first 25 copies would be free.

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the state press association vehemently opposed the legislation.

Wanted to Rent: New Home for 19,000 Arizona Genealogy Research Documents

A couple of weeks ago the Secretary of State of Arizona, who oversees the State Library, made a decision to close the the Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection on July 31. It is (or was) a vast collection of more than 20,000 volumes and file folders full of research notes, many of them irreplaceable. The decision was made with no public hearing or time for comments from Arizona citizens.

The Secretary of State apparently made the decision without knowing where all the books, and other volumes could be stored. The collection is now in limbo. (See my earlier article at for details.

Now the Arizona secretary of state’s office and genealogists are seeking a home for 19,000 books, files and documents that have not made the move to the state’s new genealogy library. And they’re racing against an Aug. 31 deadline to remove the collection from its longtime home on the third floor of the state Capitol addition.

Chairman of Arizona Library Advisory Board Resigns following Genealogy Library’s Changes

Without warning and without enough time for the public to file comments, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan recently moved the state library’s genealogy collection to a much smaller facility with only two bookshelves, holding a fraction of the books previously available to all. The move brought howls of protests from the genealogy community. (See my earlier articles at and at for details.) The Secretary of State also laid off four employees of the state library at the same time.

Genealogists are not the only ones protesting the abrupt and unannounced changes. Catherine May, Chairman of the State Library’s Advisory Board, has resigned in protest. “I just don’t want my name tied to Secretary Reagan,” May said. “I don’t trust what they’ve done.”

NARA asks for Public Comments on its Partnership with and

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has posted an article on the agency’s blog that says (in part):

“Digitization partnerships present an opportunity for increased access to historical government information through the increased availability of information technology products and services. NARA has shown that partnerships with private, public, non-profit, educational, and Government institutions to digitize and make available holdings can be a powerful model.

“NARA has enjoyed a successful partnership with Ancestry since 2008. NARA has also partnered with Fold3, Ancestry’s sister site, since 2007. In the month of June alone, NARA records received 8.8 million views on, and 2.5 million views on

Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection is Threatened

The following article from The Legal Genealogist is reposted here with permission from Judy G. Russell:

Another major genealogical collection is under major and imminent threat of being lost — this time in Arizona.

Unless something changes — and fast — the Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection — a vast collection of more than 200,000 volumes, many of them irreplaceable — is about to be lost to public access.

So our help is being sought in educating Arizona officials, and particularly the Secretary of State there, as to the value of maintaining this priceless resource.

Here’s a description of this amazing collection from Daniela Moneta, former Arizona State Library Genealogy Librarian:


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