Welcome to the Names Attribution, Rights, and Licensing WikiEdit

The scientific names of organisms are used to convey our tally of biodiversity, and are valuable as metadata for use in Biodiversity Informatics.  The status of a name requires nomenclatural and taxonomic consideration, and compilations of names are pursued by an array of projects.  There is uncertainty as how best to attribute the efforts of taxonomists and aggregators, to what (if anything) intellectual property rights apply, and how best to license the use of compilations.  On 15 -17 April 2013, the Global Names project ( and Arizona State University will convene a workshop to consider these issues and make recommendations.  We welcome  submissions.  They may be posted here or sent to


As organisms are discovered, taxonomists assign scientific names to them.  In the case of species, of which about 2,300,000 million have been described, the name is in the form of a Latin binominal (such as Drosophila melanogasterHomo sapiens, or Rosa multiflora.  Lists of names act as tallies of thenown species. Names  have become useful in managing information about species on line. They can be used to index information and link content that is distributed across the internet.

The scientific names of organisms are made up by the taxonomists who have to comply with  'Codes of Nomenclature' that have the goal of ensuring each species has one name, that the names do not change, and each name is used for only one species.  The goals are imperfectly achieved. Sometimes a taxonomist is unaware of a previous description and introduces a second name. Taxonomic and evolutionary studies lead to changes in names; the codes for plants, animals, and bacteria are independent of each other, so allowing the same name to be used for both a plant and an animal.  Alternative names for the same species are referred to as synonyms, the same name used for more than one species are homonyms.

There is no complete list of the names of species.  It is estimated that about 1.9 million living species have been described, and that this number is  a small fraction of all species out there. About 20,000 previously unknown species are discovered and described each year.  About 300,000 species of now extinct species have been described.  New names were traditionally introduced in scientific publication, but the discipline is moving increasingly towards on-line registration of new names. ZooBank provides the mechanism to do this for animals, Index Fungorum and Mycobank for fungi, and so on.

Taxonomy is the discipline of biology that deals with compiling catalogues of species. Estimates of the number of taxonomists world-wide range from 6,000 - 45,000.   Nomenclaturalists are a subset of taxonomists who monitor the compliance of names with the codes of nomenclature. 

Taxonomic perspectives are compiled and made available by individual taxonomists and by projects such as Catalogue of Life, World Register of Marine Species, Fauna Europaea, and PalaeoDB. There are numerous on-line specialaist web-sites (AlgaeBase, Biosystematic Database of World Diptera, Hexacorallian Data Base, Index Fungorum and Species Fungorum).  Namestrings (the sequence of letters and other characters that makes up the name of an organism) are compiled by NameBank, Global Names Index , NamseforLife, LLC and the GBIF ChecklistBank.  The tasks of ensuring nomenclatural compliance and making taxonomic judgements about the validity of  species and how they should be classified is time-consuming and requires considerable taxonomic effort.  Many taxonomists desire that their efforts are recognized, and some are fearful that open access to their efforts will allow others to gain credit for the work that they have done.  

The assembly of lists may involve considerable intellectual effort and new judgements, hence opening up arguments that Intellectual Property Rights may apply to compilations of names.  Compilations incorporate the opinions and products of previous taxonomic effort.


Members are listed here 

Make submissions  (and for submissions of others ... )

Name related patents

Arthur Chapman's 1999 essay on Intellectual Property Rights in a Digital World.

Rod Page's criticism of the Plant List which was released under a CC-BY-NC-ND license. The Plant List  website says that the 'Plant List' is a working list of all known plant species. Version 1 aims to be comprehensive for species of Vascular plant (flowering plants, conifers, ferns and their allies) and of Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). Collaboration between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden enabled the creation of The Plant List by combining multiple checklist data sets held by these institutions and other collaborators. The Plant List provides the Accepted Latin name for most species, with links to all Synonyms by which that species has been known. It also includes Unresolved names for which the contributing data sources did not contain sufficient evidence to decide whether they were Accepted or Synonyms.

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The Global Names Architecture is supported by the US National Science Foundation grant DBI-1062387 (The Global Names Architecture, an infrastructure for unifying taxonomic databases and services for managers of biological information), Plazi , and pro-iBiosphere .