Improve viewing & editing copyright information on observations

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.


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.


idk where we’re at on open vs. closed feature requests, but thought I’d drop in this graphic that I thought was pretty well done:

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The spec has been written and shared, but I think we’re focusing on CNC for now. Thanks @bouteloua!

Opening until implemented or staff decide not to move forward with the request.

Not a lawyer or anything, but my understanding is that if you relicense something to be more restrictive, you don’t replace the license at all, and the user of whatever is being licensed just gets to choose which of the two licenses to follow? (so, it’s not even “the older terms”, both terms still apply?).

Of course, as mentioned later, this doesn’t help if there’s no history of previous licenses. I’d suggest a small “see older licenses” button somewhere on the UI, not because iNat legally must do it, but because it would be the nice thing to do :)


Just chiming in that I was genuinely fooled by the observation license vs. photo license information presentation here on iNat. I used an all rights reserved © photo in an iNat journal entry (with attribution and a link-back, thinking that it was released under a (CC) license), not realizing that the (CC) license applied only to the observation, not the photo. I also, less seriously, claimed a photo was public domain when it actually had a (CC) license (I had given attribution and a link-back anyway), again because the license on the lower right section of the observation page itself was “public domain”.


I ran into this issue. I have been using a Wikimedia commons user-script that allows reuse of iNaturalist on commons and by extension on Wikipedia.
This script only imports Wikimedia compatible licenses (CC0, CC-BY, CC-BY-SA), yet this week I was confronted with a copyright violation on one of the uploaded content. The (current) license is indeed incompatible with reuse on Wikimedia platforms.

One possibility is that the user changed the license since I reused it, but I currently have no way of checking (or do I?). I could make a date-stamped copy of any reused observation from iNaturalist on for example the Internet Archive, but such a model is not really sustainable. Basically it would create yet another copy of the same picture. Next to GBIF and Wikimedia Commons.

A small “see older licenses” button would really help here. The copyright violation message on Wikimedia commons comes with a warning:
Wikimedia Commons takes copyright violations very seriously and persistent violators will be blocked from editing.
This button would make it very easy to check if I messed up, the user-script has a bug, or the license simply changed.

May I revive this feature request?


I think this infographic is a good idea, but I think the summary of the “noncommercial” (NC) clause is grossly misleading.

I would strongly urge to add a note that explains that NC clauses also prohibit the inclusion of the material in any copyleft or open-source work (such as combining it with the CC-BY-SA clause), including its use on Wikipedia, and its use in free open-source textbooks, or any educational material that is licensed with copyleft or SA licenses.

I also would prefer if there were mention of their other downsides, which I discuss at length here, including their vagueness, which tends to lead a lot of people to avoid them even for uses that would be allowed, and their strange or unintended interpretations by foreign courts, such as Germany interpreting them as barring even educational / public / charitable use by anyone other than individuals.

I personally question whether it’s beneficial to allow people to select these licenses at all, as I consider them a huge can of worms, but if you’re going to include them (especially if they’re made the default, as they are currently, something I disagree with) I think it is critically important that you be honest about their problems and downsides. I think far fewer people would select them if they knew just how restrictive they are. The more I’ve learned about the NC licenses the more I have become an ardent opponent of them and a proponent for either more lenient (CC-BY or even public domain) or stricter copyleft (CC-BY-SA) licencing.

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I don’t think it is wise for iNaturalist to openly display a history of license changes, however, it might be useful to store it behind the scene and release it privately in the case of a legal dispute between someone else and a user.

If we did display it publicly, and a user changed a license from a more permissive one to a stricter one, someone else could conceivably go to the page and look at the history, and claim that they downloaded the work at a date before the license change, and thus that they used it legally under the more permissive license.

Even if they were outright lying, it would be hard to prove in court that they were, and their defense that they used the work legally would seem reasonable and probably be allowed to stand.

Displaying the license change history, in the case that a license has been changed to something more restrictive, would facilitate, and perhaps even invite such abuses, and this would undermine the intent of the original uploader.

It’s like, yes, legally you can’t control people if they really did find the work earlier. But in practice, if no one found the work and documented that it was released under the initial license (and this is going to be true in the overwhelming majority of cases), no one is going to use it, and if they do use it without such use they will be at the mercy of the updated license. So it does give the user some ability to change the license in the case that no one noticed the work with the old license.

I know, even though I have no intent of changing licenses to be more restrictive, merely seeing that iNaturalist was displaying license history like this would make me wary, i.e. it would make me wonder whether the people who designed the system had thought through all the possible ramifications and had the users’ best interests in mind.