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|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Attributed Ellis Island and Copyright Fraud Story by Yale Kohen
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Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2002 18:55:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jay Sulzberger
Cc: Jay Sulzberger
Subject: [hangout] Attributed Ellis Island and Copyright Fraud Story by Yale Kohen
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attribution="This is by Yael Kohen and appeared on page 3 of the 5 September 2002 edition of The New York Sun.">
Ellis Island Bosses Force Site Down
by Yael Kohen
Special to the Sun
Maybe the folks who run Ellis Island should change the inscription on the
Statue of Liberty to "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses --
but not a Web site that does a better job than ours."
Ellis Island is not only part of the American story, but for many Americans
it's also a piece of family history. In April 2001, the Statue of Liberty-
Ellis Island Foundation, the private foundation founded by Lee Iacocca, put
ship manifests and immigration arrival records on its Web site. That
database - 22 million arrival records from between 1892 and 1924 - made
things easier for those interested in researching their family history, and
the site was immediately swamped with visitors.
But as is often the case on the Internet, an individual upstart found a way
to improve on the mainstream, big-budget product. Stephen Morse, 62, a
computer engineer from California, created a simplified search form that
allowed researchers to search through the Ellis Island records all at once,
starting from a Web site that he created. Mr. Morse's Web site became well
known in the world of genealogy, and was mentioned in articles in the New
York Times and the Jerusalem Post. But now it's been shut down because of
a dispute between Mr. Morse and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island
Foundation. The organization claims that Mr. Morse's Web site infringed
upon the foundation's legal and proprietary rights and was in violation of
the Ellis Island Database terms of usage. The director of public affairs
for the foundation, Peg Zitko, said that instead of suing Mr. Morse, the
foundation would prefer to come to a fair resolution and incorporate
Mr. Morse's tools onto the foundation's own Web site. ''What he created
was a good thing,'' she said.
Mr. Morse's Web site used name per mutations and a Soundex system - taking
names that sound alike - to filter the Ellis Island records. The site also
gave users with Jewish ancestry the ability to pull up lists of names from
towns their relatives immigrated from. Mr. Morse was in the process of
creating a form to provide that kind of information for all ethnicities.
A genealogist in West Virginia who often used Mr. Morse's Web site, Megan
Smolenyak, praised its speed and simplicity.
''It's really instant gratification,'' she said. Eliminating it ''would be
a real Ioss for those of us who have an Ellis Island past,'' she said.
Mr. Morse received a contract on Saturday from the Ellis Island Foundation,
but he refused to sign it.
The contract, which sought to use Mr. Morse as a consultant for bettering
the Ellis Island Data Base using the tools that he had created, also states
that Mr. Morse had performed illegal activity, said a genealogist familiar
with the dispute, David Fox. Mr. Fox is coordinator of the Belarus Special
Interest Group, a group that traces Jewish ancestry in Belarus.
"The agreement wanted him to admit to some illegal activity. That's why he
won't sign the agreement," Mr. Fox said, adding that he thinks. Morse
would agree to be a consultant as Long as he doesn't have to state he broke
Mr. Morse would not comment on the negotiations or the terms of the
contract; neither would the spokeswoman for the foundation.
For now, Mr. Morse has voluntarily shut down the Web site to avoid the
Iegal hassle, Mr. Fox said.
The foundation spokeswoman, Ms. Zitko, said the foundation was surprised
that Mr. Morse shut down the Site. "He did that of his own volition,"
Ms. Zitko said.
In the meantime, genealogist across the nation are worried about the
shutdown and are hoping for a resolution soon.
Ms. Smolenyak said she was "bombarded" by about 50 e-mails about the
shut-down during the weekend. "Let's just say, it was definitely a concern
in the genealogy community," she said.
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