In rummaging through an online family tree service, George was surprised and angered to find his whole genealogy file posted by someone he didn't even know. He immediately sent several E-mails accusing the person of stealing his genealogy. Why did George believe that he owned the family tree information?
The issue of ownership of information goes much deeper into our society than the legal issues of copyright. Humans are definitely territorial. Try sitting in someone's accustomed seat at church for example, or taking someone's parking space. Just drive down any country road and read all the no trespassing signs, not to forget all the wars fought over territorial boundaries. Unfortunately, this same instinct carries over into the world of genealogy.
To begin, George probably did not think a lot about who owned the information he was gathering into "his" file. Even though he may have paid, in money, for some of the information he obtained, it is unlikely he thought about how and where the information was originally gathered and stored. His idea of ownership came about a result of the fact that this particular pile of information was on his side of the fence, in other words, putting the information on his computer, in his database program gave his automatic ownership of the information. Although he had and has no legal right to the information superior to anyone else who could obtain it from the same source, once he has control over the information, it is now his.
This attitude is rampant among genealogists (and a lot of other people too) and on occasion, can dramatically interfere with family relations and any common interest others may have in their own ancestors which happen to be ours also. I have seen countless time where people as so possessive of their own "genealogy" they are afraid to even let me look at it on the slim chance I will steal their information.
Since we have such a huge and active community of people willing to share their genealogy, we seldom see public evidence of the hoarders. But they do exist. I think there is partially, an underlying feeling that somehow the genealogy has some kind of monetary value and that if I give it away, I will lose the ability to "make money" out of all my effort. This attitude is hard to understand given the almost non-existent market for personal family history books, many of which cannot even be given away to relatives. I speak from experience, having boxes of family history books in my garage that I practically have to pay family members to take.
Like many challenges, hoarding of genealogy can be addressed by kindness and education. Sometimes, the person just needs to realize that in order for their work to have any value, it must be shared with others in the same family. How many boxes of valuable genealogical information have been destroyed by family members who did not appreciate what was there, because the person who accumulated the information did not share it, in a meaningful way, with those in the family who may have had an interest?