Improve viewing & editing copyright information on observations


Having two or more licenses per observation (the observation itself and one for each separate media item), can be really confusing. The display and editing of these licenses should be improved. There have been several cases where the user was requested to update their photo license to allow noncommercial use (for Wikipedia), and they have updated the observation license rather than the photo license. And other cases where people end up with the wrong license, even though they indicated they set the right one, so whether that’s a bug or user error, I’m not sure, but something needs to be fixed either behind the scenes or with the UI to make changing these clearer. It also has the bigger repercussions of other folks unintentionally violating copyright because they mistook someone’s observation license for the photo license.


The “Copyright Info” section in the observation detail page sidebar does not include information about photo/sound copyright. It is misleading because while the observation in this example is licensed in the public domain, the photo is actually licensed with a Creative Commons BY-NC license, meaning it is not in the public domain, and the photographer must be attributed and the photo only used for noncommercial purposes:

The photo copyright information is hidden behind tapping a small button in the bottom-center of the photo and is easily overlooked.

If is is retained, Edit>License should have options for changing the observation license and the photo licenses. It currently only allows editing of the observation license.

The copyright info area should have tooltips explaining what the difference between an observation license and a photo/sound license is. I would suggest having links to edit the license (viewable only by the observer) from this Copyright Info section.

(I don’t know what you want to do about the case where someone may have different types of licenses for the different media attached to the observation, but listing all of them separately would be much better than listing none of them.)



Is there not an issue here?
If you post a picture (or observation) by one licence, you cannot then later make it more restrictive. Legally that would open up a huge can of worms. If iNat is going to allow changes, it may only be to less restrictive licences.

(and listing the copyright licenses of all media - surely only if they differ from that of the observation: that would help reduce clutter).

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You can change a license of your material anytime you want, either stricter or looser, it is just not retrospectively binding on anyone who used it under the older terms.



Is there a history of the changes somewhere, for purposes of seeing what the license was at a given time in the past?

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No, there is not.



While it would be nice if people could resolve issues to do with copyright in a civil and constructive manner, the reality is that it can be very contentious. I think it would be good to have a change history on copyright settings. Of course, if it were implemented “from now on”, then what problems would it be creating regarding older observations/media where the change was not logged? Can of worms…



I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t believe iNat has a responsibility to track license changes, we just display the current license and we allow users to set the license they desire. iNat doesn’t own the content, we have “a world-wide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt and publish the Content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Your observations and journal.” according to our TOS. Any dispute over other use should be between the creator and the party who may be violating the terms of the license.



I dont know if you can slip out of this noose that easily. By allowing users to alter their copyright licenses after having posted them, you are creating a situation of legal conflict.
I would agree with you if you prevented a user from restricting use (removing past uses) (but it is OK allowing them to relax restrictions), but if you allow a user to start restricting uses after others may have used the material under the previous licence, without noting the date of the licence alteration, then you are aiding and abetting a potential “criminalization” of legal activities.
Perhaps it might be useful to consult a lawyer on the matter.
iNat may merely display the licence, but users have a right to believe that the licence cannot be altered against them in the future. By displaying the licence, iNat needs to protect users, who may use the material in good faith, against fraudulent or compromising future changes to the copyright.
Alternatively, iNat should warn potential users that copyright is labile, and they should adequately document the copyright status of any observation or picture that they use at the time of their use.



Just for background, the reason I asked if there was a history was because, in response to a recent iNat e-mail from another user asking to use some of my photos to advertise a City Nature Challenge and indicating the user would give me credit, I just changed my licenses to public domain and told the user to go ahead and use any of my photos and not to worry about attribution. That just got me wondering about, if I ever wanted to change my licenses again, how would that user ever prove the licenses were public domain at the time? At least in this case saving the e-mails might help.



I just looked at one of the photos the other user wanted, and it reflects the old license instead of the new:



I do still see cc-by-nc there. If you can consistently replicate the issue, please file a bug report and indclude URLs, screenshots, and steps we can follow to try and replicate. I was just able to change a photo of mine to public domain ( and didn’t notice any issues.

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Did you change it in your account settings, or in “edit license” on the individual photo? (I did the former only.)



in feature request:

This example underscores one of the reasons I made this feature request. :)



I agree. But I also think it should be possible to change the licenses on all photos, etc. in the account settings and have it reflected in all the photos. I was under the impression that the licenses applied to all, not just those created after the license was changed.



Oh doy, I misread your comment. Yeah, I feel like sometimes it hasn’t “taken”/completely saved when I have updated my photo licensing settings from the main account settings page.



I think I figured it out. There are three boxes to check in the Account Settings, in addition to changing the license settings, if you want the license changes to apply to existing observations. I must not have checked those before saving the first time. I re-did it now and the example photo now reflects the new license. I don’t think this is user friendly.

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If you are choosing the option to apply the license to all of your observations, it will take a while for iNat to churn through all of those and make those updates.

Agreed, which is why @bouteloua made this feature request, and also why iNat wants to redesign the Account Settings page. Although to be fair, licensing and Creative Commons are not easy topics.

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I’m glad this feature request was brought up by bouteloua. Until I started reading this thread I had no idea that I had made the changes only to future observations, which was not what I had intended. And I appreciate the redesign plans. Based upon my mistake I would request that the “existing” or “prospective only” choice be more prominent.



I’m gonna close this and work on a functional spec for the team next week.

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closed #21