Copyright Edge Case... Is it possible to post images (with set copyright permissions) that other people took... if they allow you to?

I’m sort-of in a moral dilemma right now.
So I was leading a group of people and educating them about how to use iNaturalist, and I had them take photos of some plants to make into observations. Time passed and they haven’t posted their photos, which doesn’t particularly bother me (no real purpose to force someone to do something—anything can be a chore if you make it).

However, I noticed that one of the plants that I used as an example (as practice for taking good photos for observations) was a relatively uncommon species, the Chisos Mountains False Indian Mallow, not particularly well documented in my area.
I didn’t take any photos of the plant myself (repetitive observations are not ideal, and I didn’t need to learn this), so I couldn’t post an observation myself. I could ask the two people who took photos of the plants…

…but what would happen is that if I uploaded their images into my own observation, those photos (at least officially according to iNat) would be marked under my copyright ownership. It would be in essence me taking credit for the photos, maybe even stealing those images. I could release them into the public domain, though again I would have to ask the owners of the photos.

What would be the best course of option? Can I just ask them if it’s okay to release these photos into public domain? Can they waive the rights to their photos and allow me to take rights onto those photos? Do I need fancy paperwork? Should I just hope to catch the plant if it grows back (It got mowed down, don’t think it’s there anymore)?


Not really answering your copyright question, but if you can always upload an observation without a photo if you are trying to show that you observed X species. It would be stuck at casual though.

I think in general, it is frowned upon to upload images that are not your own. All photos you upload are automatically uploaded under your name (and thus your copyright), so using someone elses photos would be difficult to give the correct attribution, even if they do give you permission.


It’s not really how iNat’s set up to work… but if they give you permission, and you set the image to copyright (as opposed to Creative Commons) then I can’t see any harm or legal issues. You can add an attribution in the description along the lines of “Image copyright Mary Peters, reproduced with permission”.

Sure it will officially show your name as the copyright owner of the image, but nobody should be doing anything else with “your” copyright image without contacting you first anyway. If anybody needed to reach out to the copyright owner (eg if they want to use the photo in a book) then you’ll hear from them and will have the opportunity to explain the situation.


Agree that iNat doesn’t account for this sort of thing… that’s why I consider it more of an edge case. Still kind of on edge about having the image copyright still show up.

I think I’ll stay on the safe side for now and just create a casual observation with no photo, and update it later if I find a good solution, but that could work. I’ll think it over.

Once or twice, people have asked me to upload their photos to my account. I ask them about the copyright, and they shrugged, not caring. When I do upload a photo in those circumstances, I add a disclaimer advising that this is not my photo, and I do not hold the copyright, which belongs to (insert name).


I don’t know why others answered you so, if you saw the organism and author of photo allowed you to post, then of course you can post it, it’s a common thing and not an edge case, all you need is mention author in description.


There are other places where it has been discussed that this is permissible (with permission from the original photographer and proper acknowledgement of their work) if done occasionally. iNat doesn’t want people to do this for lots and lots of observations, but for one of particular importance like the situation you described, it should be fine.

I would just discuss the licensing with the user before you post it. The simplest would probably be to post in public domain if they are ok with it.


Ok. I’ve checked back with the other people, and after some searching and careful scrutinizing of the photos, I determined that the plant in question was not the Allowissadula holosericea that I suspected and was likely a more common Abutilon spp. (The fruit/schizocarps have some distinct differences). So that resolves that conflict.

Nonetheless, I want to thank all who took the time to reply.

If something like this does somehow happen again, I’ll probably just ask the person whether they’re comfortable releasing it into the public domain.
I’d think most people who are just casually taking photos of something wouldn’t mind much about releasing those photos into the public domain. If someone did decide otherwise, then they would probably give specifications on how to properly attribute them to the image.

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