Buddy Icon-Copyright?

I stumbled across a buddy icon that is a copyrighted stock foto. I figured out, there is no way to flag a buddy icon. How does iNat handle a probable copyright infringement of a buddy icon ?

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Where on the site did you find this icon?

Here. I hope posting this profile is not finger pointing. The image is quite famous. https://www.inaturalist.org/people/martin-sv

Oh, yea, I tend to notice lots of people using odd photos as their profile photos. I hadn’t considered copyright flagging them as they are not trying to pass them as their own “observation”. Should we be trying to flag those? That would take out a lot of users. Or would a profile photo count as fair use?


It was discussed at least once in the old forum, but I don’t think staff (as opposed to users or curators) ever weighed in:

Personally, I think it’s a bit disingenuous to only respect copyright in specific areas of the site, so I’d be in favor of a flag.

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This is just my opinion and understanding, not necessarily accurate to the law…

A photo of an artwork is not always a copyright infringement. Usually, at museums and art galleries, the “no photography” rule is more about flash degradation on pigments than it is about anything else. Of course, if you are granted access to view a work and part of the “contract” involved in that access is no photographing the work, then it is definitely wrong to do so.

In any court case on copyright infringement, there is going to be an element of “has the copying of the work caused any loss or harm to the copyright owner”, and in the case of someone using such an image as their profile pic, I doubt it. If you were copying that picture and putting it on T-Shirts and selling them, then there could be a reasonable expectation that the owner of the image should receive compensation for use under that circumstance, and there being no compensation or payment to the owner could be considered a loss. If the image was used in an inappropriate way, then there would be the case for arguing harm to the good name of the owner of the image. And so on.

My profile pic, as an example, was a pic I googled and found online, and represents “Fergus MacRoigh” of Irish legend, and as I was actively learning about the Irish aspect of my family history, I chose to use that image as part of my identification with Ulster roots. This was prior to my involvement in iNat, btw. I could not see any immediately obvious way to “ask for permission to use”, nor any assertion of rights. If my use of this image was in terms of a commercial enterprise then I would have made significantly greater attempts to track down the image owner to obtain permission, and in choosing to use it I am also aware that if the owner were to approach me and ask me to stop using it (although I struggle to imagine them wanting me to) I would cease without argument. I have only used a small part of that image in the profile pic, and I believe it imparts no harm or loss upon the owner.

You also have to remember that copyright only lasts for a certain period of time, and in the case of many very old famous paintings, the work may well be out of copyright. There is also the matter of different laws in different jurisdictions, New Zealand for instance is part of the Berne Convention, so the finer points on copyright may vary around the world. Of course, iNat is based in US, so that will have a strong influence in this matter.

My understanding from reading first person experiences is that graphic artists generally do not appreciate their work being co-opted for use as representing someone else online. You get similar things from photographers who find someone else posting their images on social media. So while I think it is most likely also illegal, usually artists don’t appreciate it either which makes it unethical.


I find this a silly thing to be bothered by. Find a court willing to call this copyright infringement and then I’ll change my mind. Until then, we don’t need self-appointed hall monitors policing what icons users choose.


I too think it is silly to worry about, unless the original is your own work.

On a side note, the reason galleries banned flash photography is because early flashes used magnesium powder. There was a real fire danger from that. Modern electronic flash do no more harm than the spotlights installed in galleries.

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lol, I was citing statements by many gallery and museum guides throughout my life, I would not be surprised to learn that it had got morphed into something completely untrue over time! Urban legend I think is the term?

A tiny thumbnail, as in a low quality image - perhaps counts more as admiring the artwork.

If you search by image there is a fascinating video showing how he created the artwork. And the static image is scattered across a few sites.

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Because of how low-res they are, I don’t care about it.

The National Gallery did a test in 1995 to determine their policy. A Dr. Evans re-analyzed the data later and determined that most pigments don’t degrade any more than with the exposure to gallery lights. The test was relatively short term, with only 1 million exposures (Louvre had 8 million visitors last year) The test was with photography flashes though, not the much less intense cell phone “flashes”.

yeah, LED light is relatively low intensity energy wise. Sodium flashes (the disposable flash cubes that you would put on older cameras) were much higher energy levels, and probably why I accepted the reason on faith.

Reminder: let’s please stay on topic and discuss copyrights for buddy icons :)



Since there is currently no way to flag these, I’m not inclined to worry about them much. In my experience the Internet is pretty full of low-res icon-sized images of copyrighted works. That said, I did suspend a new account once that used a very explicit frontal nude icon (of a human).

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