We want you to license your iNaturalist photos before April 15th!

Please add comments or discussions related to the blog post “We want you to license your iNaturalist photos before April 15th!” in this forum thread. Please read the blog post first before commenting here to reduce confusion.


changing licenses by [April 15th] will ensure that your photos are included in this open data set

Can you clarify what will happen if you change your license after this date? Both if you make your license more open and if you make it more restrictive.

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  1. the processing incurred by changing licenses will happen at a busier time of the year and thus will have a more noticeable performance impact on the site.
  2. the changes won’t be included in the Amazon Open Dataset on the April 15th launch (though they will in subsequent updates to the dataset)

I’m wondering what the details are for updates to the dataset – after iNat finishes processing the license change, is it immediately reflected in the data available from Amazon?

Why would I want to assist Amazon in any way? How can I ensure that anything I contribute does not benefit Amazon?


If you choose to license your photos with a Creative Commons license, you will enable iNat to pay Amazon less than they already do.


Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity to also promote the switch to a more permissive license for observations? (not photos or sounds). Some people may choose to retain all rights over their photos even after reading the blog post, but there aren’t many reasons to do the same with observations. Perhaps these people would consider adding a license to their observation insteads of also keeping all rights over them. This would increase the proportion of observations that go out to third party software such as GBIF.


Thanks @bouteloua … Amazon is paying less only because they are getting something much more in return. Thanks for the reply.


Can you be specific by what thing of value you think Amazon is getting? I think its important to avoid confusion and misinformation here. Please read the blog post carefully especially this sentence I’m repasting here: " Importantly, nothing has changed regarding what data and photos are being made available, or what company is hosting them (we already host all our media with Amazon). This program just makes it a bit easier to access these photos and their associated data and passes the bill on to Amazon ."

Certainly the enrollment of iNaturalist in the Amazon Open Data Sponsorship Program is a thing of value because it allows Amazon to tangibly associate themselves with positive aspects of the iNaturalist brand and initiative. Is that what you mean? If so we are not arguing with that.

But if you mean that something has changed about what iNaturalist data Amazon can access or use because of our enrollment in the program I want to reemphasize that that is not the case.

Also we (iNaturalist) are paying less to Amazon by our enrollment in this program so “Amazon is paying less” isn’t accurate. But it’s accurate that Amazon is losing revenue from iNaturalist via our enrollment in this program.


@loarie … thanks for the reply. I’m highly skeptical that a huge corporation that doesn’t pay federal taxes would give any money away without getting something in return.


I like the idea generally and will strongly consider changing my settings on my images to a Creative Commons license so iNat can benefit from the Amazon Open Data Sponsorship Program by being charged less for storing images under this type of license.

But I was only able to come to this conclusion after re-reading the blog post many times (especially the “Why licensing photos helps keep costs down” section) and realizing it was not very clear on why iNat would save money. Initially, the blog post led me to believe that iNat was licensing the iNat photos to Amazon (and thus saving money) but after clicking on and reading the AODSP link, I realized that was not the case. Instead, Amazon “covers the cost of storage” of the iNat images that are licensed under a Creative Commons license. Amazon’s apparent goal is to encourage open source data by charging less to store this type of data. (Correct me if I am summarizing this wrong).

Maybe it was just me being dense but explaining this better and explaining the AODSP better might help convince more folks to change image license setting and save iNat money. I like many others may use Amazon but I am still skeptical of its motives for many things including this.


Has there been any consideration to doing your own hosting? Administrators at another citizen science site, BugGuide, have told me that AWS is much more expensive than running their own servers.

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I doubt BugGuide is dealing with anything close to the volume or complexity of data that iNat is on a daily basis. That’s not a knock on BugGuide, just a recognition that iNat needs to serve tons of pics at high res to many users across web and mobile devices (via web and apps) as well as running API requests and data out to GBIF, etc. (and I’m sure I’m missing other things as well). Using some type of web services is the way to go.

In general, I think that focusing this discussion on the pros/cons of Amazon Web Services specifically is a bit of a distraction. Use of AWS is incredibly widespread (if you don’t approve of AWS, try not using any of these web sites/services).

In regards to the license issue, I thought the explanation in the blog post was clear and that this is a great initiative, both for iNat and for data sharing. I also agree with @frousseu that this would be a great opportunity to suggest switching observation licenses as well. I realize that there’s the potential for this to distract or confuse readers a little, but I think the gains to be had are great in terms of increasing open data (via getting more records in GBIF). Having existing users change to a more permissive observation license (and new users signing up for observation licenses that allow exports to GBIF) is probably one of the most high impact things that could happen to increase iNat data availability. Especially as the “hard” work of making the observations and IDing them has already been done!


Interesting blog post and sounds like a great way to save iNat money in the future. My observations have been set to the default CC-BY-NC since I joined. While I have read a few forum threads about licensing and making images available for wikipedia I just ended up down a rabbit hole of reading and didn’t end up changing anything. I’ve just updated my license settings to CC-BY for the first time and maybe I’ll update to CC0 in the future.


I admit that this promotion could potentially be distracting a bit from the main idea of the blog post, which is to reduce the hosting costs of media, but since the post also mentions data sharing as an argument, I think it would be in line with this part of the argument.

I think raising observation rights here will just distract from the main issue here, which is the opportunity to leverage a partnership that iNaturalist has with a data partner.

This is obviously an already established relationship, and it almost sounds like AWS are acknowledging a greater value in what iNat bring to the table, so there is an opportunity presented to sweeten the deal for iNat.

The only concern I have is that some iNatters might start putting unwarranted pressure on the “professional photographers” that (rightly and legitimately) protect their work with full rights. My position has always been that we are priviliged to have their observations accessible to us, and we should respect their positions over their rights.

I am learning in iNaturalist, and when I learn something new, I go looking for observation photos that give good views of the characters that I have just learnt on a species. This is largely so that I can help educate others, or at the very least support my reasoning behind a specific ID. These informal use situations are something that I rely on CC rights very much for… as it would be impractical to have to arrange the right to use the images for this purpose in every situation. If I was publishing a professional version of these “guides”, I would most definitely arrange with the owner to include their (often) superior images.


I really appreciate that iNaturalist respects observers & photographers’ ability to choose how a photo is shared, however it seems to me that there should be more incentive than simply altruism for users to make their media and observations open and available for scientific use, if not for advancing science, at least for conservation of communal resources. Has iNat ever considered adapting the Flickr strategy, with a limit on non-licensed photos? Back in 2018, the company announced that it would limit users on free accounts to 1000 photos. Later, the company exempted photos licensed under various Creative Commons licenses from the 1000 photo limit (above which, photos risked deletion). I feel that this could be a relevant model for iNaturalist: set a finite limit for media that is All Rights Reserved, but no inherent limit for Creative Commons licensed media. I’m not sure what the right limits would be, but perhaps 250 observations where the media is ARR. Perhaps a higher limit might apply to select professional photographers. That would encourage users to consider the value of their photos or sounds and whether they have genuine justification to not permit re-use of the media.

As a second aspect to encouraging Creative Commons licensing, would it be possible to have a dual-licensing option? The case I have in mind would be an option to simultaneously apply both CC BY SA and CC BY NC to a particular work, thereby allowing others to choose which license applies to their application of the media. Again, that would be a good way to incrementally open things up without requiring users to choose between GBIF or Wikipedia (and related projects) and CC BY.

If other license combos were permitted (there’s a very finite number of combinations), being able to apply multiple licenses might be a way to address attempted revocations of permissive licenses and limits of the CC BY-NC license as a minimum for GBIF inclusion.


I’ll clarify this, I think…

A few years ago an argument developed here in the NZ NatureWatch community between a professional photographer that was uploading full rights photos in observations and benefiting from expert identification on his subjects. I understand the scientists perspective, but the animosity developed to the point that the photographer deleted their account. The photographer concerned has since been persuaded to return to iNat, and are again an active participant in the community.

The position of the scientist, was that as they were adding their expertise to the observation with their ID, then they should be allowed to use the photo for their own purposes… My argument at the time was “No, it’s akin to walking into a museum and asking someone there what something is. Just because they tell you, doesn’t mean they get the right to keep it!”

Anyway, I am for this push to encourage more open rights on photos (and observations), but don’t want to see it used as a “bash the professionals” thing…


I don’t think this is a conversation about changes we can make to the iNat licensing system, but rather a call to users to re-evaluate their current settings. What you propose is a whole other topic, best not brought up to distract here… (I do like where you are going with it though)

[edit] One down side to it, is it would encourage the professional photographers to “get their ID and remove their content”, which disables any benefit that iNat get from their contribution.


Why not promote or even mention the “Share Alike” (-SA) version of the CC license? Share Alike means that any derivative work must have the same license. Without it, would the “second generation” of derivative works not be up for grabs? So you upload a photo, and license it as BY-NC. A person using your photo does not charge money for prints of it, and gives you credit - so far, so good. But if that person puts a less restrictive license like Public Domain or CC0 on the prints, the person getting the prints could make more copies from the prints, and sell them for profit without any credit if they want. Share Alike would prevent the “next generation” users of your photos from doing what you did not want the “first generation” of users to do.

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