Monday, March 16, 2009

Can a cemetery refuse you the right to publish tombstone information?

This is a question in reference to an article I found online, you can follow the link below to check it out. In short, a man went through a local church cemetery and took photos of the stones. He then made a website about the cemetery and put the photos online. The church in question sent him a cease and desist letter, stating that such a website was in violation of the various families and their rights to privacy.

I can understand their point of view but a tombstone is out in the public realm. It is visible to all and contains information that can likely be obtained from other sources. It seems to me that the church is more upset that they sell a cemetery book for $10 and this is probably cutting into their sales. It also seems that the state in question does not allow you to photograph tombstones for profit but this is clearly for free, genealogical research purposes. Would Find-A-Grave be in violation of this state law since they show tombstone photos and advertisements on the same page?

Read the article and let me know what you here!


knutz said...

I read the article not only once but twice to make sure I read it correctly.


That is the ONLY reasoning I can deduct from that article...GREED!

Dianne Krogh said...

I suppose if one were to look at this issue strictly from a property rights standpoint, a cemetery could deny publication of inscriptions. They could also post "no trespassing" signs, have a laundry list of rules about cameras and websites, and require your signature on a waiver noting that you understood their terms. Heck, they could even start charging admission! After all, they do own the land and could install a locked privacy fence around the whole area. It's not the usual, or accepted practice, but if we're speaking in legalities, that just may be the case.

Is this really all about greed, though? I have a feeling that the Eagle Scout cemetery book is not really what the church is concerned about.

First, they're wary about a stranger from outside their congregation posting every bit of their information. This may have been as a sign of disrespect by church officials, so to be fair we need to ask if anyone talked to the church before launching such a complex project. Did anyone ask if they'd like to be involved? It might not have been technically necessary, but it never hurts to communicate and be polite. The church's pastor might have a more traditional mindset when it comes to modernization. He may not know anything about computers, the internet, or genealogy, so the whole issue might boil down to fear of the unknown. Unknown fears can only be cured with education.

Secondly, ".com" means somebody is in it for commercial purposes, so I could see why the church would think what they do. They probably feel as if someone has barged in and stolen their heritage, while rudely trumping their amateur Eagle Scout's project in one fell swoop. The information that previously was held within their own little community is now being sold worldwide. That would be something akin to graverobbing to them, which is well past being rude and disrespectful.

That said, I love the project and applaud the incredible time and effort it must have taken to record all details on this cemetery, but I simply feel that this man should've worked with and discussed his plan more completely with the church first in order to avoid misunderstandings.

Dianne Krogh
Find-A-Grave Volunteer