Copyrighted obs include text saying they will not be shared with data repositories that respect licenses, this cannot be correct

Platform: Website

Browser: Firefox

URLs (aka web addresses) of any relevant observations or pages:

Screenshots of what you are seeing:

Description of problem:

Step 1: Go to a research grade observation page with a copyrighted image such as the one linked above (by copyrighted I mean the observer has chosen to retain full copyright rather than using a CC license. I don’t mean the photo was removed for copyright violation)

Step 2: Scroll down to the DQA

Step 3: Notice the text to the right of the DQA, it says “This observation is Research Grade! However, it is not licensed for re-use and will not be shared with data repositories that respect license choices.”

“will not be shared with data repositories that respect license choices.” does not make sense, it should say “will only be be shared with data repositories that respect license choices.” or “will not be shared with data repositories that do not respect license choices.”

i don’t think your suggestions really clarify the situation. the first is factually wrong. the second is sort of true but not really the point of the text.

i think the existing text is an attempt to say that the observation will not be intentionally shared with other data repositories. i would be tempted to just drop the “that respect license choices” part, but i think the point of this is to indicate that iNat is a public database and can’t be responsible for third parties that scrape the data and purposely disregard copyright and licenses.

so i think another way to effectively say the above is:

This observation is Research Grade! However, it will not appear in our partner data repositories because does not have a license that allows reuse in those repositories.

that said, i would not have classified this thread as a bug report.


Correct, this isn’t a bug, it’s text that was intentionally put there and was vetted by GBIF before it was added to the site.

Also, photo license (or lack thereof) does not affect whether an observation will be shared wth GBIF and similar databases - it’s the observation license that matters.


As worded, it seems to imply that it will be shared with data repositories that do not respect license choices.

“I don’t fly in airplanes without trained pilots” implies that I only fly in airplanes with trained pilots–I don’t think anyone would interpret it to mean that “I don’t fly in airplanes”.

It should say “This observation is Research Grade! However, it is not licensed for re-use and will not be shared with data repositories” unless the intent is to actually specify the kinds of repositories that it will not be shared with.


This is exactly the issue, the current wording actually tells the user that the observation will only be shared with those license repositories that do not respect licenses. If the intent is to warn that some repositories ignore license requirements that is not stated in any clear way

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When I see the word ‘vetted’, it sounds to me like lawyers may have been involved in the exact phrasing. Being somewhat confusing but also unambiguously literally true might jive with that. If thats the case it may not be as easy as simply changing it to a clearer (but perhaps less precise) phrasing.

I think it’s even more confusing than that too. I get the intent that a third party that respects copyright won’t use the copyrighted images (or iNat won’t share them), but it needs to cover the following points:

  • are they shared with third parties that do not respect copyright? If no, then the statement can be all-encompassing, instead of carving out ‘copyright respecting,’ it’s just “won’t be shared by iNaturalist.”
  • is there a difference between ‘shared’ by iNat and third parties having access (e.g. through scraping) in relation to the sentence? Is there any other way that the photos are shared not directly by iNat?

The way it is currently worded implies that they can be shared by iNaturalist to copyright not-respecting parties, rather than a not-respecting third party just having access through public information.

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As Tony says above, the text isn’t saying that the images in the observation aren’t licensed for re-use. It’s saying that the data in the observation isn’t licensed for re-use: the data being the details like what was found, when, where, by whom.

Some people believe that observation data isn’t subject to copyright. It doesn’t constitute a “work” in copyright terms: it’s just a scientific fact that you’ve communicated. You might hold the copyright to your particular means of communicating that data, e.g. to any photos you’ve taken and attached to the observation, but the actual data in the observation is just a scientific fact and can’t be owned by anyone.

If that’s right, then it’s not up to observers to determine how their data can be lawfully re-used. In choosing a license for their data, all they’re really doing is expressing a preference about how it’s used. In ignoring that preference, a repository wouldn’t be disregarding copyright. It would just be disregarding the observer’s preference: a preference with no legal force behind it.

I think the text makes sense with that background in mind. It doesn’t take a position on whether data repositories are legally required to respect observers’ preferences. It doesn’t commit iNaturalist to withholding data from repositories which believe that those preferences have no legal force, and it doesn’t accuse such repositories of violating copyright law.


But aren’t the images what the user can set copyright status on? Specifically, in your account settings you have license options for observations and photos separately. Does the message being discussed here only occur against observations regardless of photo licensing status, or is there a different message if the photo license is restricted?

It would be better to say something like “This observation could be shared with data repositories, increasing its usefulness to science, if the licence were changed to one more suitable. For guidance on changing the licence, see [URL]”.

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in this thread, i don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent discussing the merits of copyright on iNat observations. there are other threads that go over this, and here are my thoughts on one of those threads:

each repository / organization can decide whether and how it wants to honor user licenses on observations, and each repository / organization can protect – or not – the data stored there using various mechanisms.

in the specific case of iNat and GBIF, it seems like GBIF won’t accept data unless it’s licensed CC0, CC BY, or CC BY-NC, iNat has decided it won’t push observations to GBIF unless licensed CC0, CC BY, or CC BY-NC; and iNat has chosen to ask its users to pick the license for their own observations rather than applying a blanket license.

iNat won’t actively push the data to such a repository, but if such a repository decides to scrape data from iNat, iNat isn’t going to stop it simply because it’s going to disregard observation copyright / licenses.

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No, there are separate licenses for photos, media, and observations. If you go to your Profile and “Content and Display” you will see three separate licenses that you can select. The export of the observation data itself is what is affected by the observation license. An observation with a permissive license will still be exported to GBIF even if the photos have a more restrictive license. Photos are not exported to GBIF. There are other threads, including the one @pisum posted above that go over some of this info.

Here’s another on the forum:
This is a good overview:
The ToS contains relevant info:
Some sections of the Help address licensing:
This is a nice journal post overview:

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