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

Two key parts of iNaturalist’s mission are to encourage the sharing of information and to keep the platform free and inclusive. Licensing your content with a Creative Commons license can help with both, so we encourage you to go to your account settings on the website and change your default licenses to anything other than “No license (all rights reserved)” and check the “Update existing” boxes before April 15th. Why? Keep reading below…

What are licenses and how do they work?

When you join iNaturalist you are presented with a “Yes, license my photos and observations so that they can be used by scientists” checkbox. Checking this adds a default Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC) to your content.

A license is an agreement you make with someone who wants to use your property. By law in most places, content like photos are a kind of intellectual property and you have the right to control how your photos are copied in certain situations. Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a bit different: they are licenses you apply that allow anyone to use your intellectual property without having to negotiate with you individually and without having to pay you, as long as the terms of the license are respected, e.g. that they give you credit. This provides content authors with some legal controls while allowing content users to utilize and remix that content without fear of a lawsuit.

On iNat, licensing your photos with a CC license lets a scientist publish your photo in a paper describing a new species or a novel phenomenon. It also allows scientists to use your photos and your data in ways that probably don’t require a license but where the laws in various places are vague or inconsistent. Imagine having to understand the laws in the country of origin of every single person who made every single piece of data you plan to use in your research. CC licenses help scientists avoid those kinds of headaches. You can learn more about the different types of CC license on your account settings on the web.

Why we believe in sharing open data

We believe that making information available and shareable does more good than harm. Specifically, we believe information is most beneficial when it is free of cost and free of legal restrictions. Have you ever tried to look something up only to find the definitive work on the subject is behind a paywall and thought, “Why is scientific information only available to people with enough money to pay for it?” We much prefer the information-seeking experience most of you are more familiar with: going to Wikipedia, where information is free of cost and free of (most) legal restrictions. We think the same thing should apply to information about biodiversity, which is the kind of information we manage on iNat, whether you’re a teenager in Nepal, a scientist in South Africa, or a park manager in Vietnam.

But we said that we think it does “more good than harm.” So what’s the harm? Well for one thing, if a teen in Nepal can access and use information, a multi-billion dollar corporation in California probably can too. While we on staff agree with Wikipedia that allowing for-profit use of information is a good thing that helps spread the information’s benefits more widely, we also suspect that most people who use iNat don’t share that belief. That's why the default license on iNat is the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC) license, which prohibits commercial use.

However, we encourage you to choose a more open license like the Attribution license (CC BY), or to simply relinquish any rights to content you create on iNat through the CC0 dedication. This will allow projects like Wikipedia to use your photos on their species pages (the non-commercial clause prevents reuse on Wikipedia), or ecotourism companies struggling in a post-COVID economy to use your photos to attract new business. Obviously if you make part of your living on your photos that won’t make sense for you, but that probably doesn’t apply to most people on iNat.

Why licensing photos helps keep costs down

As iNaturalist grows, photo storage costs are growing too. We’ve recently been paying over $10,000 a month to store these images on Amazon servers and expect that these costs will double in the next couple of years under iNat’s growth trajectory. This includes the cost of storing the photos (storage) and costs associated with sending the photos over the Internet whenever anyone views or downloads one (bandwidth).

Luckily, we’ve successfully applied to the Amazon Open Data Sponsorship Program (ODP) which means Amazon will kindly pick up the bill associated with licensed photos. 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. If we can encourage more iNaturalist users to license their photos then we will be able to reduce costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years.

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

While we suspect that some of you have decided not to license your photos despite the advantages described above, we suspect many of you haven’t just because you weren’t aware how all this works. If that’s you, please go to your account settings on the website cand change your default photo license to anything other than “No license (all rights reserved)” and check the “Update existing” boxes before saving.

Why before April 15th? For two reasons. First, we’re officially launching iNaturalist’s enrollment in the ODP on April 15th, so changing licenses by then will ensure that your photos are included in this open data set. Second, moving photos around requires some processing and we’d love to get this processing done before we get too far into the North American Spring bump, which is the busiest season on iNaturalist.

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!

Since the iNaturalist forum has better tools for moderating and facilitating complex discussion, we've disabled comments on this post but have created a companion thread in the forum. We invite your thoughts or questions there.

Posted on March 24, 2021 09:35 PM by loarie loarie