Can you use other peoples data for guides?

I am considering creating a guide for the plants you can find in Shetland. But as the title implies, can you use other peoples observations for guides? I wouldn’t just like to nab it from them. Main reasons being I don’t have photos/great photos of some of the plant species here.


You can use other people’s images for non-profit works as long as the copyright is CC BY-NC or CC-BY, and with proper attribution.

With other licenses, I’d suggest asking the observer through a private message if it’s okay to use the image.

For some examples, I’d suggest checking out this site I manage with my brother with guides to flies.


To add onto that, any photos that are licensed as CC0 (public domain) or CC-BY (“attribution”) can be freely used in commercial publications. CC-BY-SA (“share-alike”: not super common on iNat but you might run across them) can be used in a commercial work but only if you release the work under the same creative commons license (that is, you allow others to distribute and reuse your work in turn).


If you use SA licenses then I think you only have to release the image under the same license, not the whole digital guide, right?

As I understand it, the whole derivative work must be licensed under a similar SA license. From the CC wiki:

The Share Alike aspect requires all derivatives of a work to be licensed under the same (or a compatible) license as the original. Thus, if a person were to use parts of a BY-SA movie to create a new short film that new short film would also need to be licensed as BY-SA.

And from the CC-BY-SA 4.0 license itself:


In addition to the conditions in Section 3(a), if You Share Adapted Material You produce, the following conditions also apply.

  1. The Adapter’s License [the license You apply to Your Copyright and Similar Rights in Your contributions to Adapted Material in accordance with the terms and conditions of this Public License] You apply must be a Creative Commons license with the same License Elements, this version or later, or a BY-SA Compatible License.
1 Like

What if you apply no copyright to the material?

I don’t know too much about copyright issues mentioned above, but it would be courteous to contact the person through DM. I’d offer, but I’m nowhere near the Shetlands!

1 Like

Someone sent me a link to that site, and I used it yesterday! Very helpful.

1 Like

the SA clause applies to derivatives/adaptations. so i believe the key question is whether your guide is a derivative/adaptation or a compilation/collection. if a BY-SA photo is used in your guide in a more or less unmodified form, and it is clearly identified and attributed, with its original BY-SA license indicated, then i think you could make a case for applying whatever separate license you want to your guide. the license you apply to your guide will not extend to the component photo. so anyone wanting to use just the photo from your guide will still need to respect the photo’s separate BY-SA license.

that said, i think it’s still a good practice to let the copyright holder know that you will be using their photo in advance, and refrain from using the photo if they express any concerns about inclusion in your guide.

generally, i think the answer here is yes, as long as the you’re respecting the license of the observation and its media. in iNaturalist, an observation is licensed separately from its photos and sounds. so keep that in mind.

as noted above, regardless of license (even if something is public domain), i still think it’s a good practice to let the copyright holder know that you plan to include their work in your guide, and respect any additional concerns they express.


I think the digital guides are a “collective work” (or compilation) rather than a “derivative work” (see for definitions). If so, according to the CC FAQ, you can indeed incorporate CC-BY-SA (and CC-BY-NC-SA) material in a collective work with a different license (or in the public domain).

1 Like

As I understand it, modifying an image makes it a derivative work that you need to keep under a share-alike license. There are other things that could also be derivatives. I can’t give legal advice, but my strong impression is that taking an image and using it in a website or pdf doesn’t make the entire website or pdf a derivative. There are a lot of articles that say the same thing such as

I have always found it safest and the best practice to send an iNat message to the photographer to get permission, then there can be no misunderstanding. Sometimes folks don’t notice that a message has been sent, then I go to a current observation of theirs and tell them in comments that a personal message is waiting for them.
Be aware, one iNaturalist who had given me permission previously and then got crosswise with me threatened to sue me if I continued to use her images, even though they were marked as share and share alike status!! INat recommended I not use her images.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.