Copyright protection for uploaded images

Are images uploaded to iNaturalist automatically protected (at least legally) from commercial use? I see, for example, that iNat apparently has some sort of understanding with AWS. Does this give Amazon and/or its affiliates permission to use iNat images that aren’t specially protected, for purposes such as the generation of AI field guides? What about other AI publishers?

If these uses are allowed, what boxes and where do I need to check to allow non-commercial use with attribution but no commercial use without specific permission by me?


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Licensing information can be found in your Account Settings under Content & Display.


Yes, by default, all images uploaded to iNaturalist are legally protected from commercial use. Unless you explicitly change your licensing to something more permissive, like CC-BY or CC-0, you still retain a commercial monopoly on the use of your images and can sue anyone using your images commercially if they have not licensed them from you directly. That includes use in AI-generated field guides (or any field guides). Note, however, that using images to train AI is a legal grey area. It is often assumed, but not tested in a court of law, that using images to train AI is not a violation of copyright. There are, however, several court cases underway to test this assumption. Regardless, you still retain full copyright protection over the original images themselves, so if they were to appear in a commercial field guide (AI-generated or not), you are entitled to compensation (assuming they are recognizably your images).

Note, however, that if you have posted any of your photos to Facebook or Instagram, you have granted them and their affiliates an indefinite commercial license to basically use them however they please. It’s in the fine print of their terms of service.


Also note that there are three different license choices in your settings - observation, photo and sound. If you want your data to be useful for science, it is recommended to choose an observation license that will allow this, even if you opt for a more restrictive license for your photos and sounds.

The options I select, for example, are:


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