Tech Tip Tuesday: Understanding Licensing

Nature is full of surprises. This past week I’ve been amazed with all the wildlife that I saw out and about despite the bouts of snow and bone-chilling cold. Just the other evening on my drive home from work, I saw a muskrat skittering across the road. Although they don’t hibernate in the winter, they mostly remain in their shelters unless disturbance or winter conditions require them to move. It makes me wonder what inspired this one to cross a road high up on a hillside instead of staying indoors. This experience was a great reminder to me that you can have interesting wildlife encounters at any point in your day, even when you’re not exactly expecting it. As always, be sure to record your neat sightings on iNaturalist so that they can help others develop a clearer picture of wildlife in your area!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

Most of us who add observations to iNaturalist do so in the hopes of contributing valuable information to biodiversity research and conservation. Research grade data is made accessible to scientists through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Organizations and other users will often use iNaturalist photos for articles, publications, and personal projects.

However, what many don’t realize is that iNaturalist has different copyright licensing options available that get applied to observation data, photos, and sound recordings. These licensing options generally fall under two broad categories: “all rights reserved” copyright and creative commons. “All rights reserved” copyright is what most people are familiar with - it restricts you from freely copying someone else’s work without permission or credit. What we’re going to talk about today is creative commons (CC), a form of copyright that allows the creator (licensor) to give permission for others to use their work in certain ways without asking permission first. This allows others to use creative products more easily while ensuring that the licensor gets credited for their work.

There are six different CC licenses available, each with slightly different conditions. The licensing that you choose to apply to your observations, photos, and sound recordings affect whether or not GBIF and others can use your uploaded information. Below I will walk you through how to find your personal copyright settings, what they mean, and how they affect the feature they’re applied to.

Finding your copyright settings:

Before I explain what the different license options are on iNaturalist, it’s important to know where to find them. To access your copyright settings, go to your profile photo’s dropdown menu in the top-right corner and click on “Profile Settings”. This will take you to a page that says “Edit Account and Profile”. Once on this page, scroll towards the bottom until you find the section that says “Licensing”. You will see three different categories: observation, photo, and sound. They each contain the same list of possible licenses. Take a moment to look at your current settings and know that we will return here in a couple paragraphs.

What they mean:

CC0 - No Copyright - You waive your rights to these observations, photos, or sounds. Anyone can use them without crediting you. Others can create new material based on your work.

CC-BY - Attribution - Anyone can use your observations, photos, or sounds as long as they credit you. Others can create new material based on your work.

CC-BY-NC - Attribution-NonCommercial - Anyone can use your observation, photo, or sound, and create new material based on it, however they can’t make a profit off of the new material.

CC-BY-SA - Attribution-ShareAlike - Anyone can use your observations, photos, or sounds, however any new creations based on your work needs to be credited the same as the original.

CC-BY-ND - Attribution-NoDerivs - Anyone can use your observations, photos, and sounds, however they can’t alter your work to create new materials.

CC-BY-NC-SA - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike - Anyone can use your work, so long as they don’t profit off it and use identical credits for new creations.

CC-BY-NC-ND - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs - Anyone can use your work, however they can’t profit off it or change it.

Things to consider when selecting a license:

Observations: Not all research grade observations end up in GBIF and this is often due to licensing. GBIF can’t use observations licensed as CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-ND due to the way that the data gets processed. Any observations licensed in these ways (even high-quality research grade observations) are excluded from GBIF’s database, rendering them useless to the scientific community. If you want your observations to serve as data points to researchers, you need to choose either CC0, CC-BY, or CC-BY-NC.

Photos: Photos are more flexible when it comes to licensing. They aren’t subject to the same restrictions as observations, meaning that a photo licensed as CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-ND can still end up in GBIF, so long as the observation is licensed correctly. Also, as long as your photo receives some kind of CC designation, others can use it within the parameters described above.

Sounds: Sound recordings follow the same rules as photos. Any research grade sound recording with a CC license is shared to GBIF and can be used by others in their reports and projects.

Changing your license settings:

If after reading through all of this you want to change your observation, photo, or sound licensing, here’s how to do it. If you left your settings page, return to it following the steps described in the first section. Once at the licensing section, select the new license you want to use. Under each category (observation, photo, sound), there is a box that when checked will apply these changes to all existing observations. This allows for easy updating. If you only want your licensing changes to affect observations going forward (none that are already uploaded), then leave that box unchecked.

Want to learn about CC licensing? You can check out their website for more in-depth descriptions of the six different licenses.

TTT Task of the Week

This week I want you to follow the steps outlined above to find and, if desired, change your license settings. If your current observation license is set to one of the unusable forms, I encourage you to choose a different setting.

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2, February 11, 2020 18:51

Comments

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Wow, gee-wiz, who would have thought all these copyright options existed and are possible? Not out-to-lunch me, that's for sure. Life seems increasingly nuanced—and complicated. I am guessing it is mostly about money in the copyright licensing realm. A couple questions come to mind about the copyright licensing topic:
• Can someone take what I post on iNaturalist and make it their own by copyrighting—an "all rights reserved” copyright"—what I have submitted by claiming it is their own (i.e., because I may have unknowingly allowed this if I am a CC0)? If this happens, maybe I can't ever use it myself without receiving the new copyrighter's permi$$ion?
• What is the current percentage brake-down of what iNaturalist users who specify one of the seven different iNaturalist copyright options (or are there really "six" options as is specified above?)?
• What is the default setting for copyright designation on iNaturalist for people like me who did not know that such options exists: "CC0?"

Posted by widnessj 11 months ago (Flag)
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Thank you for reaching out! To your first question, whatever copyright you choose stays with it forever, even CC-0. While it doesn't need to be attributed to you, someone else can't (at least shouldn't) attribute it to themselves. CC-0 just means that anyone can use your work for any purpose without attributing it to you, however they can't copyright it to themselves.
To the second question, there's no data that's easy to access that shows what the percentages are for each user, however we did try to find out what the stats are for VAL photos. The break-down for that is, out of ~350,000 photos: CC-0 (300), CC-BY (40,000), CC-BY-NC (221,000), CC-BY-SA (356), CC-BY-ND (19), CC-BY-NC-SA (2,200), and CC-BY-NC-ND (4,900).
To the third question, the default for iNaturalist photos (and I'm assuming observations and sounds as well) is CC-BY-NC.
I hope this helps! If you want to learn more about creative commons and how the different licenses work, I recommend checking out this website: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/.

Posted by emilyanderson2 11 months ago (Flag)

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