All rights reserved observations

@frousseu, Now I understand the distinction you’re making. I have a hard time believing that reporting the occurrence of an organism at a particular time and place would be licenseable information. I’m trying to imagine any analogies. Scientists don’t copyright individual data points, but they can protect the products built upon those data points–images, graphs, whole publications. I can’t think of a natural history study wherein every individual observation in a collection was acknowledged. As you say, that would make the analysis and publication of such accumulated data nearly impossible. Products (including the images of an organism, since that is a product of an effort of the observer utiliziing skills and equipment, etc.) produced from raw data may certainly be protected, copyrighted, or licensed, yes; but not the raw data. In my mind, the observations on iNaturalist are the raw data. Do other folks have a substantially different view of this?

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Just to clarify: I was only taking about observations, the images are obviously copyrighted and should remain under full control of the owner at all times, who may wish to share or not. A copyrighted picture will still be perfectly fine as documentation for an observation, which imo is their most important function.

Regarding @frousseu 's comment on attributing individuals, this is called “attribution stacking” and was a major part of the discussion in GBIF when standardizing licenses (disclaimer, I took part in those discussions). Simply put, from version 4.0 of the CC licenses, attribution is a lot more flexible than before. So even if the license was enforceable because the observation is copyrighted, with the new license “reasonableness” applies to all attribution. This means that an electronic appendix, or, even easier, citing the DOI for the GBIF dataset, is enough attribution, as it is very easy to find out exactly who contributed with what.

I really like the suggestions by @cthawley on simplifying it to “sharing with scientists”, although maybe just “sharing” is even better, as use is not limited to research purposes. This also captures Wikimedia and all others. I’m such a nerd that for me GBIF is just synonymous with sharing, but this is much clearer ;)

One should be really really careful with changing defaults. Users, also those willing to share, are allergic to the idea that they share rights without choosing to do so explicitly. And rightfully so. Changing the default for new accounts, and signalling the option to do so for existing users is the max, I think.


Thanks for the clarifications. This is reassuring! I agree that any changes to defaults should be made only toward new accounts.


I generally agree with your take on this. As near as I understand, there’s no copyright for facts (which data are).

The licensing for observation data seems to be in part for other things that go along with observations, like any comments, but also because repositories like GBIF want a license to go along with any data they aggregate. My guess is that some of this is just a CYA move, but I’d be interested in reading anything that really covers this point from an expert or letting me know if I’m wrong here! So I think iNat needs to attach a license to have their observation data be shareable, so that’s why there’s this option for users.

My main point, however, is that we likely have a system where iNat observations are going to have a license (even if that might seem unnecessary), and, if people choose an all rights reserved license, they may likely be preventing sharing/use of their data when they intended to share it. Since doing away with observation licenses altogether seems very unlikely, I think it would be more impactful to consider how we could change the default observation license and/or the wording when users select an observation license to promote users selecting observation licenses that promote sharing/use of the data they generate.


I suspect that IDs help the AI learn no matter the license, so there is value to making identifications to observations with all rights reserved.

I don’t think copyright makes any sense to apply to an observation, unless there is creative text associated with the observation. " To copyright something , only three elements are required : (1) fixation, (2) originality, and (3) expression."’t_be_copyrighted

Under expression, "Direct copies of someone else’s work can’t be copyrighted, and neither can facts, short phrases, titles, etc. ". I submit that observations are facts and can’t be copyrighted.


So if someone is inspired and writes a poem into the observation notes, isn’t that covered by the observation copyright?

I’d suggest that leaving it so basic as “sharing” is not a good idea. The “sharing scientists,” or “sharing for research purposes” is a better way to go, in my opinion.

A lot of this could be dealt with by clarifying in simple language what the various licensing options actually mean. If you go yo your setting page and start looking at what to adjust you have something like 5 or 6 different classifications, but no easy-to-understand simple explanation of what they mean, and the little Wikipedia and GBIF tags don’t help either as there is no explanation if those tags mean that they are excluded if you choose that licensing option, or included.

Ah yes, all the poems :) You can interpret the license as “in case there is anything copyrightable here, this license applies”. And exactly because there is a theoretical chance of some prose somewhere, it actually is necessary to specify the license.

My point is that it would be wrong to imply that sharing is only for scientific purposes, because it’s not. CC has some nice short easy to understand descriptions of each license, but in my experience many people don’t read short easy texts either, so I fear many that want to share openly will end up not doing so if it’s just the licenses being explained.


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