Family history website Ancestry has changed its terms and conditions to assert a “perpetual” and “non-revocable” right to user provided content.


On 3 August, Ancestry updated the text of its terms and conditions, which the site’s users were alerted to by email.

The terms and conditions previously read: “By submitting User Provided Content through any of the Services, you grant Ancestry a sublicensable, worldwide, 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.”

In changes labelled as ‘Clarifications about intellectual property’, the updated version changes the wording to “a perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, non-revocable, royalty-free license”.

Ancestry defines user provided content as “Personal Information and content such as family trees, photos, videos, recordings, stories about relatives, your comments in trees, community discussions, or about records, and responses to email surveys and questionnaires available through our Services”.

The changes have caused consternation among some family historians.

Judy G. Russell, author of blog The Legal Genealogist, told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine: “No commercial website profiting from its users' content should require a perpetual irrevocable sublicenseable free license to use user provided content in any way and for any purpose it desires regardless of medium or time.”

In response to the criticisms, on 5 August Ancestry added a sentence to the terms and conditions reading: “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.”

Since Ancestry allows users to save other users’ photographs and content to their family trees, this means that Ancestry will still have a license to content if another user has saved it, even if the user who originally uploaded it then deletes it.

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In a blog post, Ancestry said: “This change to the Ancestry Terms and Conditions is consistent with the manner in which other genealogy research platforms handle user provided content. It was never intended to enable Ancestry to do anything with our users’ content other than facilitate a vibrant family history community that brings the value of personal discoveries to all.”

The updated terms and conditions will become effective on 2 September, thirty days after they were first posted, allowing users a grace period to delete their content if they so wish.

Sarah Williams, editor of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, said: "Sharing content, whether it is photographs, stories or research, has been at the heart of Ancestry for many years. It has always been important for users only to upload content they are happy to share."

Peter Calver, author of family history newsletter and website Lost Cousins, told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine that he wasn't concerned at the changes.

"It's the only practical solution for a website that allows users to copy information from the trees of other users," he said.


Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine