Ancestry Terms of Use Update

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06 August 2021
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On 3 August 2021 Ancestry shared news of changes to its terms of use. Details relating to the ownership of user generated content hosted on Ancestry led to discussion and a level of confusion regarding the implication of these terms. Family Tree asked Ancestry for some clarification to try to help Ancestry users understand the situation.

The new Ancestry terms of use - 3 Aug

On 3rd August 2021, when Ancestry shared news of changes to its terms of use, the following paragraph led to discussion on social media regarding the implications of these changes:

… by submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. This includes the right for Ancestry to copy, display, and index your User Provided Content. Ancestry will own the indexes it creates.

Of particular concern to people were the inclusion of the words 'perpetual' and 'non-revocable', and the fact that the terms of use would come in to play from 30 days after users having been advised on 3rd August (a timeframe, it was felt, that may elapse before some people had become aware of the change).

Fears were voiced on social media surrounding the need to delete, or implications of deleting material, from Ancestry prior to this deadline. This was countered by others feeling that they had invested a huge amount of work into their family history research on Ancestry, and had no wish to remove it, and in addition, they voiced that their material was on Ancestry expressly so that it would be found and used by distant kin.

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The updated Ancestry terms of use - 5 Aug

Family Tree asked Ancestry for information regarding the motivation behind the change in the terms of use and Ancestry have advised us that they have further clarified the terms of use so that the paragraph above now reads:

...by submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to, create derivative works of, and otherwise use such User Provided Content to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. This includes the right for Ancestry to copy, display, and index your User Provided Content. Ancestry will own the indexes it creates. Notwithstanding the non-revocable and perpetual nature of this license, it terminates when your User Provided Content is deleted from our systems. Be aware that to the extent you elected to make your User Provided Content “public” and other users copied or saved it to the Services, this license continues until the content has been deleted both by you and the other users.*

The underlining above highlights the clarification. But what are the implications of this clarification?

Our understanding is that the clarification should resolve many of the issues, such as:

The Ancestry blog post above makes the extremely important point that, while a user may delete their material, if that material has been copied by a fellow user, that material will remain on Ancestry on that fellow user's account.

Further distinctions may also be useful to consider:

While Ancestry's terms of use effectively state that it will gain ownership rights of user generated content on Ancestry - it is only gaining ownership rights of the specific digital copy that we as users upload to Ancestry. They are not acquiring the copyright of the image. The copyright remains with the copyright holder, and if that's you, you can continue to use the image as you wish - in your blog, books, etc.

Future-proofing our genealogy - Join the conversation

The discussion surrounding the change of terms of use at Ancestry has generated many useful and extremely interesting points for discussion surrounding the future proofing and curation of the wider digital assets of the genealogy community, covering the remit from large data companies to individual family historians' collections.

If you would like to be advised of future discussion surrounding this topic, please email [email protected]

To read the full Ancestry terms of use, particularly point 2.2.3 - to which the above refers - see https://www.ancestry.com/cs/legal/termsandconditions#ownership-of-content

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