Open Data - Information for Existing Volunteers

This is a working document, as points are clarified this page will be updated

I'm just an ordinary volunteer and I simply want to help the Free UK Genealogy project by transcribing records you allocate to me.  I'm just 'doing my bit':  very few, if any at all, of the entries I transcribe have or will have any personal interest for me.  Obviously I want them to be available to anyone who is interested in them, and I trust the project organisers to ensure that will happen.  So what difference will signing this Agreement make to me?

To you personally, none at all:  it won't commit you to anything new, and you may well regard it as "just a formality".  But for us it is anything but a formality, as it will legally enable us to ensure that the results of your work remain available to all, whereas without your signing we can't.  So we really do want - indeed need - you to sign up.

Why am I being asked to sign a licence permitting commercial usage? I thought Free UK Genealogy projects were free?

So that people can do clever things with them! Here's trustee Dave Mayall's blog on the subject.  We want to stress that Free UK Genealogy remains committed to free access to high quality transcriptions – we will never put our projects behind a paywall. But we know the transcriptions will get more use, and use in a variety of ways that go beyond our core purpose, if we permit others not only to use our data, but also to use it commercially. Because our transcriptions will be free, there will be no reason why someone would pay for the transcription, unless that got them additional benefits which they do not get on our website.

Can you add conditions: for example, to make academic researchers using Free UK Genealogy databases make their publications Open?

We will strongly encourage everyone to make the results of their use of Free UK Genealogy databases Open, but we recognise that for various reasons, sometimes this is not possible.

What are you going to do, if someone breaks the licence?

If they do not remedy the situation, we will suspend their ability to take/receive updates. Further responses will depend on context, but could include legal action. While we reserve the right to take what action is appropriate in the circumstances), so far as non- commercial infringements are concerned, our approach is likely to be that we will constructively assist any suspected infringer and help to bring them into compliance. Our focus is not on policing technical infringements of the ODbL where the data is passed around groups of individuals or bodies operating on a not for profit basis, and not charging a royalty or fee for access to the database, over and above their own direct costs of making it available or copying it.

What are you going to do, if I tick the ‘I do not give you a licence’ box?

We will mark your data as ‘NOT OPEN DATA’, and the images on which it is based will once again become available for transcription. Your transcriptions will continue to be seen, but only on our websites. The second (open) transcription will replace your transcription on our websites, not be additional.

If you have personally purchased images, and shared them with the project, it will be up to you whether you wish us to return the fiche / destroy the images, or we can use them for re-transcription.

Can I remove my transcriptions, so they are no longer seen on the Free UK Gen websites?

This depends on the project. You cannot remove transcriptions from FreeBMD or FreeCEN, as this would be a breach of your existing agreement. You may remove transcriptions from FreeREG, but we would very much hope that you will let them remain there, where they can continue to benefit family historians as you originally intended, until superseded by an Open transcription. The new agreement means that you cannot remove transcriptions from any project.

What will happen if I later decide [having originally gone for the ‘not open data’ option] that I want to start transcribing again under the Agreement?

Just sign up again. If you want us to open your existing data, please let us know.

What will happen if I don’t respond (or respond and don’t tick either box)?

If you don’t tick either box, we will mark your transcriptions as ‘open data’. If you don’t respond at all, we will mark your transcriptions as ‘open data’ one year after we contacted you.

I understand that, in future, I must not contribute data which is subject to the relevant intellectual property rights of someone else and they have not given their permission for the data to be contributed to us under these terms. But what if I have done this in the past?

Please let us know the terms you made the transcription under, and if possible contact details of the person or body you made the contract with – we will mark this data as NOT OPEN, and contact them to see if we can open the data.

If I want to contact the owner or custodian of documents myself, do I have to explain all this to them?

We will be contacting all Register Offices and relevant Government offices very shortly. It is, however, difficult to reach all owners, particularly within organisations without hierarchical structures, such as some non-conformist churches. For these situations, there will be specific advice for owners and custodians on the Free UK Genealogy website – you can give them a copy of this, and if they have any questions it doesn’t answer, please contact, or have them contact If you would prefer us to make contact with potential partners, please let us know.

I’ve got more than one ID/login for Free UK Genealogy projects - can I just sign up once?

We have considered a single ID/login which would work across all our projects, but while technically possible, this would take considerable developer time and money that we prefer to invest in website improvement.

Within a single project, you can request that your multiple identities are merged to a single ID/login.

Database rights only exist in the EU and a few other places – I’m not in any of them – so do I have any rights to license?

As much as if you lived in the UK, because Free UK Genealogy is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, currently being registered in England and Wales, to succeed Free UK Genealogy, a charity registered in England and Wales, so the law of England and Wales applies to the databases created by us.

How are you going to respond to requests for data?

We will develop application programming interfaces (APIs) so that those who agree to the licence may take the data without our intervention. An API is a standardised request, defined by us, which comes from someone else’s software to our software [need a link here to a fuller explanation].

Some may need, or prefer us, to deliver the data in another way – for example a selected subset of records, in a specific file format, via a file sharing website. Where we need to do such additional manipulation and presentation we are prioritising the requests on the basis of alignment of their project to our beliefs and priorities (e.g. free use, Open Data, family history) and other virtues (e.g. other educational use, medical research), and order of application. Where projects align with our beliefs and priorities, we may waive charges, or restrict them to actual costs. For other projects, we may charge above costs.

The need for a new charitable organisation

We have formed Free UK Genealogy Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) so that we are an incorporated, rather than an unincorporated body. CIOs are a new form of incorporation, which places less administrative burden on the organisation than the old method (of being simultaneously a Charity and a Limited Company). The Charity Commission has more information on the options open to us. Incorporated bodies are able to do things which an unincorporated charity cannot legally do, including:

  • employing paid staff
  • delivering charitable services under contractual agreements
  • entering into contracts in its own name
  • owning property, including shares.

The aims and objectives of the CIO are identical with those in the current constitution. As the existing charity and the new CIO are separate organisations - albeit with an identical set of trustees - all existing contracts (e.g. with staff) will have to be re-signed. 

The need for a Limited Company

We are forming a limited company so that our earnings are tax efficient. We are taxed upon our income other than donations, but if the income is earned by a limited company, which donates its profits it to us, it will not pay any tax. Our current earned income is all from banner advertising.  We are considering other potential sources of revenue: recharging for time spent on non-Free UK Genealogy projects, consultancy.  We have no plans to sell databases or part of databases. The Limited Company will be wholly owned by Free UK Genealogy CIO. The directors of the company will be Camilla von Massenbach and Patricia Reynolds (it is recommended that at least one director is not a trustee of the charity).

Previous FAQ - for information

You can find the FAQ generated in spring 2016 here.  Many of these are now obsolete.