Preliminary Findings from a Qualitative Study on iNaturalist Users License Choices Show There is a Substantial Portion of iNaturalist Users Who Have "All Rights Reserved" by Mistake

Yes, using “sound_license=” in the search bar gives a much more accurate figure than using the “Photo Licensing” filter in the explore tab (which excludes any sound observation that does not also include an image).

As noted in the journal entry, there are many reasons why the numbers are approximate and not exact, particularly because it is possible to have more than one image licence type among an individual users observations.

even your notes suggest the data are derived from actual user default license choices, not inferred from photo licenses. characterizing things as “image license breakdown” (without “default”) would be much clearer.

I have been selling images for 30 years and greatly value my copyright. As a result, I removed all my images from the platform because I could not find an option for anything other than some flavor of Creative Commons which I simply will not do. With this said, I would have zero problem with my images being used for research but giving up my copyright is not going to happen. I have some trouble understanding why anyone would think creative commons was remotely required for this use as a species location data point. I’d love to have my image data be useful for research but firmly object to anyone requiring me to put my images into the public domain or publishing my imagery in publications without compensation.

All Rights Reserved has been one of the options for photos for a long time on iNaturalist, and can be applied to your images through your profile settings


As @beachcomber noted, All Rights Reserved is definitely an option for both observations and media on iNat (and has been as long as I can remember). In fact, if users uncheck the “Yes, license my photos…” box on account creation (see above), they default to All Rights Reserved, which is one of the major issues being discussed in this thread.

Users can also set their media licenses to “All Rights Reserved” while setting their observation license to anything else. This allows users to share their observation data, like

with scientists/GBIF while retaining all rights over their media.

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It might be useful to note that iNat did do a major push asking users to consider changing licenses if they were comfortable with it about three years ago when iNat became part of Amazon’s ODP. See blog post here:
with link to forum post:

Staff noted that, as of 3/24/2021
Currently about 66% of iNaturalist photos are licensed. We’d love to get this up to 75% or 85% with your help before April 15th to help us cut costs and spread the benefits of iNaturalist more widely!

This is a significantly higher proportion of licensed images than reported by @Loopy30 above. I would guess it suggests that lower volume observers are more likely to choose All Rights Reserved while higher volume observers are more likely to have some type of CC license. This makes some inherent sense to me, as higher volume observers are probably generally more engaged and aware of license choices.

In April 2021, staff noted that the campaign did have an impact:

It would be interesting to know the current license breakdown for iNat media. If those gains are sustained, it could also suggest whether reaching out to newer users (ie, those who have joined in the 3ish years since that campaign) might have a strong positive effect. It seems like the last campaign had an effect of about +4%, which sounds small, but it means that almost 12% of All Rights Reserved media at the time were changed to a CC license as a result of that campaign. I think that’s pretty good. If those users also updated their current licensing options (as opposed to just changing the license of previous observations), and this seems most likely, the gains could be sustained. Given the rapid growth of iNat, encouraging new users to choose open licenses could have proportionately larger impacts (in terms of number of photos/observations) than focusing on asking existing users to change the license of previously made observations.

On a side note, I do think a really good opportunity for asking existing users to consider their licenses is coming up when the new app is released. When users sign in to the new app for the first time, they could see a prompt showing their current licenses and asking to confirm them, or the giving options to change (with a short message touting the benefits of open licenses).


There are 92.3 million research grade observations with some sort of license

and 30.1 million with all rights reserved.

Thus, the percentage of research grade observations with licenses is already at 75%.

The percentage for total (verifiable) observations is not that much less, just under 74%.

The vast majority of licensed observations (about 80%) use CC-BY-NC.

This is an interesting contrast. We seem to have three main kinds here: Those like soaringseal, who are commercial photographers; those who are not commercial photographers yet reserve all rights; and those who allow only NC (noncommercial) use. Why are those who are not commercial photographers so overwhelmingly opposed to commercial use?

The proportion of CC-licensed observations can be easily obtained through the search bar or by using filters with the Explore tab. The proportion of (verifiable) observations is as follows:
CC0 1.8%
CC-BY 6.8%
CC-BY-SA 1.2%
CC-BY-NC 60.0% (81.7% of all CC-licensed observations)
CC-BY-ND 0.2%
CC-BY-NC-SA 1.7%
CC-BY-NC-ND 1.7%
All CC-licensed observations: 73.4%
No CC-license (All rights reserved): 26.6%

This is not necessarily the same as the proportion of photo images, or the breakdown of licenses used by observers. To compare the proportion of licensed photos now with the 70% announced by @loarie in 2021, we would need a method of establishing the number of photos attached to all the observations and their current image licenses being used. Does anyone have this information at hand?

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Because to most users, the sight of one of their pictures being used by some stranger to make a (probably dishonest) buck has an effect not dissimilar to an emetic.

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There are two reasons. The smaller reason, for me, is that I feel like if you’re going to make money off my photos I should too, even though realisticly I don’t expect anybody will want to use my usually poor quality photos.

The bigger reason is to control what is done with the photos. I want scientists to be able to use the data and even the photos themselves for their research, including for publishing the results. I’m OK with a non-profit using my photos for some fund raiser (though see above comment about quality). I don’t want my photos available for everybody who wants to sell calendars or make advertisements. If people want to use my pictures in a field guide they will sell, I want to be know what they’re doing and then I will probably give permission.


I think the major reason is

if users leave the “Yes, license my…recommended” box checked when signing up. It isn’t a conscious decision for most users to restrict their content to NC only - they’re just going with the suggestion.


It’s the default, yes, but also, I suspect a lot of people are going to have a gut response about commercial use of photos they submitted for free.

Then when you think it out, people who aren’t professional photographers don’t necessarily know what, if anything, their photos are worth. But just because they aren’t making money from their photography doesn’t mean they like the idea of somebody else making money from their photography. The license with NC is the more cautious choice. If none of your photos are worth using, it has no effect, so there’s no reason not to include it.

In other words, it’s the “I’m not sure, but just in case” option.

My hunch is that people who deliberately choose less restrictive licenses probably have a better understanding of their value of their photography (whether it is high or low), and they are making an informed choice.


This proportion is similar to that of amphibian and reptile observations in Austria (see
CC-BY-ND, CC-BY-NC-SA and CC-BY-NC-ND only play a minor role and apart from CC-BY-NC most people (unintentionally) choose “All rights reserved”.
In my experience, however, one has just to ask the observer to change the license, and in most cases they will do it because they are just unaware of the topic.

I just checked the global top500 observers. Here, the percentage of “all right reserved” is much lower, most likely because the users know iNaturalist quite well and know what they are doing. However, even here 32 users (6.4%) with 1.4 million observations chose “all rights reserved” for most of their observations. I am wondering if these “power-users” are aware of this.

In 927 requests made over the last 4 years, about 70% of users responded and 60% successfully changed their licence to CC0, CC-BY, or CC-BY-SA. More than half of these users had already selected an image license of CC-BY-NC, but many had “All Rights Reserved” as their default image license. About 5% of users contacted went even further and changed the default image license of all their other observations as well.


This issue of users choosing licenses that are too restrictive is actually a great problem to have, if you think about it.

Remember when people were afraid to share anything online because of a fear that it would instantly become public property?

While that concern still exists, this thread shows that we’ve come a long way in managing copyright for digital media. We’re figuring it out together, and that’s great! :smiling_face:

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