The other day I was checking my Ancestry.com hints, viewing only photos. I was both surprised and not surprised to see almost a dozen photos suggested as hints for one of my GG-Grandfather,. I was surprised because they were photos from my own collection, yet not surprised because this happens often. It is frustrating because these photos are attached to my family tree and, instead of using the ancestry feature that allows users to attach photos in a way that is really a link to the original, this person downloaded the photos and re-uploaded them to their tree.
Ancestry. Other times they got them from another site that I'd shared them to. And the issue is not that they uploaded the photos, the real issue is that they aren't giving credit.
In the case of the photos found on Ancestry, the other user has, purposefully or not, subverted a system designed to maintain provenance. In the case of photos from other sites, the user has declined to cite the source. Either way, it's the wrong thing to do.
I vented a bit on Facebook and the comments indicated that many others have become fed-up with this sort of thing and now keep only private family trees. I fully understand that they have their reasons for keeping private trees and respect their right to have them.
At the same time, I can't stand private trees. I view genealogy as a collaborative effort. I make some discoveries, which connect me to another researcher. Their family tree gives me information that allows me to make more discoveries. All of this information is then available for others to build off of. More and more people add to the data and, if everyone is making their discoveries available online, we all benefit. This is how I view online family trees. Why would I make mine private?
There are a number of ways to share family trees online, from private trees and public trees on many websites, to truly collaborate trees at sites like WikiTree.com. I would never want someone to do something that they are not comfortable with, but would encourage people to be open to sharing and working with other genealogists. If we work together we can accomplish more than we can on our own.