Please don't knowingly flag images as copyrighted when they're not

I’ve noticed an uptick recently in people flagging images as copyright violations when they are clearly not. I’ve noticed cases of school mate photos being flagged as copyrighted so the images don’t show up, and also manipulated or otherwise artificial images (which would almost certainly be considered fair use).

Marking a photo as copyright infringement essentially says that the person who uploaded is breaking the law.

There are other ways of hiding an observation that don’t have the same repercussions.

Just wanted to note, the ‘copyright violation’ flag includes this:

So something can be considered fair use and not an actual infringement, but still fall under that if the poster was not the original creator of the image.


If it falls under fair use, attribution is still important! Copyright law doesn’t let you just pass off other people’s work as your own, even if it’s for educational purposes.


Yes. So please do not flag a photo as ‘Copyright Infringement’ unless you can show that it was taken by someone else.

with the school students, might they be flagged because the person is a minor and/or didn’t consent to the photo? I realize that isn’t exactly copyright infringement but maybe that was what was going on there. Maybe without calling anyone out in particular you can give a better description of what people were flagging improperly.


One thing I see a lot (re incorrect flagging for copyright) is:

User is in the field and hasn’t had a chance to upload photos to computer yet, so they take a photo of the photo on their camera screen with their phone and then upload that in the meantime (with the intention of getting an ID ASAP and then they’ll replace this photo with the real one later).

Someone then sees this and assumes they’re taking a photo of someone’s screen and flags it for copyright.


I haven’t done any flagging yet but I have seen pictures of children obviously taking pictures of each other and thought those might run afoul of COPPA. What would be the proper way to deal with those?

Sounds like the copyright flags are intended to cover plagiarism (failure to attribute somebody else’s picture and presenting it as your own) in addition to outright copyright violation. Pictures of people would also have privacy/publicity rights to consider. If the person (or guardian in case of minor) did not give permission to post the picture online, it is in violation of those. Is there a flag for that? I know some very protective parents who would not want any of their child’s pictures published anywhere, certainly not on a public website.


Could we have some feedback here from iNat staff on this issue? This doesn’t seem like the type of site policy issue that a user should be making declarative statements about.

For what it’s worth, I use that flag relatively liberally for any photo that has clearly been lifted from the internet or is a photo of a page in a book. In those cases, I don’t have the copyright information but I am nearly certain that the observer did not take the photograph.


I have no problem when a photo clearly lifted from a book gets used.

Some examples:

  • Photos of schoolkids by schoolkids (over 13 years old). Lack of consent is not copyright infringement. I get your point @charlie, perhaps we need a specific way to flag these?
  • Watermarked photos. Please don’t just assume that the uploader is not the owner.
  • Artificially manipulated photos. Just because a person created it in their computer does not mean it is not their copyright or IP. If they lifted it off somewhere else, fair game.
  • Photos that appear to be duplicates uploaded by different people. Please ptake a moment to check that they ARE actually duplicated photos. A recent case had someone flag (and become abusive) with three uploaders of the same bird because he thought they were plagiarism. They happened to be people in a birding trip all photographing and independently uploading the same organism.

I guess I’m saying, a person is innocent until proven guilty, and separately, flagging a photo as copyright infringement is a form of censorship, as it becomes unavailable to non-curator users. Please take at least a moment to check whether this is really copyright infringement or not.

In many cases there are perfectly simple ways of sinking the observation into the morass without the implications of labeling it as copyright infringement: tag as not evidence of an organism for human-made objects, ID as human, etc.

Or maybe I’m just being way too pedantic about it.


This is expressly against the rules of iNat - it is the second part of the rule you are mentioning. The uploaded media needs to have been recorded by the observer (or at the very least another person in the observer’s party when making the observation.

Flagging a photo that violates that rule is indicated as one of the use cases for the “copyright” flag.

This is not censorship at all. When a user uploads a photo that is not there own, they are claiming attribution to a piece of media that does not belong to them. That media is also being incorrectly associated with an observation (date, location, individual, etc.) which is a data quality issue.


Oh, my, that didn’t come across in any way close to what I intended to say.

I meant I have no problem flagging photos as copyright infringemnent when they’re clearly lifted from a book! I also meant that flagging a photo as a copyright violation when it’s not evident that it is, is a form of censorship and this is why we should pause and think about whether it really is or not before hitting the button.

An observation, however: just because a photo is from a book does not automatically mean that the user did not take that photo. It is highly unlikely, and in any case you almost always have to transfer copyright to the publisher when you publish a book, which is why I say that I have no problem flagging these.


Regarding the general topic, I agree that it’s best to not flag something as a copyright violation unless you can prove it actually is one, but this isn’t always possible (eg a photo of a photo in a book rather than one stolen from a website). Here’s a good thread about this:

I’d have to do some legal consulting about this, but from the little research I’ve done regarding street photography, laws vary quite a bit from country to country and it can get pretty muddled. Regardless, it’s not a copyright issue so would be best served as a topic for a different discussion.

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