Names attribution, rights, and licensing Wiki

Submissions to Taxacom ListServe

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We announced the workshop on Taxacom, a list serve watched by taxonomists.  We said "The Global Names project will host a workshop to explore options and to > make recommendations as to  issues that relate to Attribution, Rights and > Licensing of names and compilations of names.  The aim of the workshop is a report that clarifies if and how we share names. We seek submissions from all interested parties - nomenclaturalists, taxonomists, aggregators, and users of names. Let us know what (you think) intellectual property rights apply or what rights should be associated with > names and compilations of names.  How can those who compile names get > useful attribution for names, and what responsibilities do they have to > ensure that information is authoritative.  If there are rights, what kind of  licensing is appropriate".

the following is a fair extract of those comments that related to names and compilations of names. They have been grouped into various themes.

What Biologists think about 'Rights'Edit

·         I caution interested readers that the laws concerning copyright are far more complex and flexible than is generally asserted by biologists. The more I learn about it, the less sure I am of what I think I know. Copyright law differs significantly between countries (for example, whether or not a compilation of facts can be copyrighted). And also bear in mind that in United States law there are circumstances under which copyrighted material can be used without having to seek the permission of the copyright holder (one example is the set of uses that fall under the "Fair Use" clause of the law).

·         there seem to be general assumption in this thread that "opinion" is copyrightable. Under international law this is NOT correct. Basically, it would be copyrightable if it would be just a very creative, largely unsupported opinion. But then you loose your status as a scientist. If you carefully analyse the available information and form an educated scientific opinion which you do or can argue about the reasoning, then this is not creative. It very hard work, it is excellent and valuable work, but not creative in the sense of copyright according to the Berne Convention. Einstein with his invention was "creative" in the sense of thinking in new ways, it was hard work elaborating them, but the theories are NOT copyrighted, they are not "creative" in the sense of Copyright.

·         if one were to actually copy the WoRMS content *and layout* exactly, or near enough to exactly, without permission or attribution, then that would probably be a copyright infringement, but no such problems just setting out WoRMS content in standard taxonomic/bioinformatic format

·         if a copyrighted web page simply presents taxonomic names (and possibly at least some associated data) in a standard conventional format, then a verbatim copy/paste cannot be considered to be an infringement of copyright ...

·         Sometimes I think users treat all CC licenses as if it meant they could do anything with the material however there is also some good practice around.  The key thing to understand is that the default assumption for any material published on the internet must be that it is copyright and is owned unless it says otherwise.

·         while individual facts cannot be copyrighted, original compilations can (e.g. a species list within some context) WHICH THEN RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING I'm not so sure! Certainly not in a global context, nor in a regional (country or provincial) context. Maybe for some particular private reserve or something? Going back to the global or country context, you cannot copyright the fauna or flora (in the sense of a species list thereof)!

·         Does not the description of a new species constitute an individual fact - which is copyrighted? You cannot pull my name off and substitute it with yours.  I believe the original description of a new species is automatically copyrighted.

·          I don't think anyone believes that taxon *names* can be copyrighted, or even lists or indexes of taxon names.  Much less obvious, however, is the "copyright-ability" of much larger/broader datasets that add value to those lists of names.  WoRMS and CoL and EoL and many others add a LOT of information to that list of names -- and therein lies the real value and service of such data systems.  Much of that information is *NOT* fact; but rather is the creative contribution of people who assert an opinion (e.g., that species X should be regarded as a heterotypic junior synonym of species Y). In my mind, there are certain things that should be regarded as Facts, and cannot be copyrighted (even when complied as a list), such as: - Taxon Names (with authorities); Bibliographic citations; Linkages between these two; Statements of fact concerning taxonomic treatments (e.g., the fact that Smith 1950 treated Xus cus Jones as a heterotypic junior synonym of Aus bus L.). There are also things that are clearly within the realm of copyright-able material: - Images and other multimedia files; (potentially) specimen data owned by an institution (although I think we should foster a culture where such data are not considered copyrighted); binary files (e.g., PDFs) representing complete copyrighted documents (as much as it rubs me the wrong way that this exists, I also acknowledge that it's a reality); robust and clever data services that can usefully assemble creative meaning from the raw facts.

·         If I publish a list of spider names from a given location in a refereed journal, this would constitute my legal publication.  If you now try to publish my list of spider species in another refereed journal, declaring them to be from the same location, I am pretty sure that there would be hell to pay. Now, if you were take my list, then add it to a larger list, say from areas (X) and (Y) and (Z), and even merge them in some way and make it so that you can draw biogeographical conclusions, then if you give me credit for my contribution, then yes, you would publish my list without copyright problems.

·         a bigger problem are those profit hungry institutions and delusional control freak type people who are making bloated copyright claims on free use data, banking on it never being tested out in court. The issues involved aren't clear or well defined enough to make into laws. Any attempted legal challenge would fail to reach a definite outcome, and so threaten to bankrupt the challenger unless they pulled out beforehand ...

·         in my (extremely limited) understanding of international copyright law, a "fact" cannot generally be copyrighted.  An "opinion" may or may not be copyrighted, depending on whether or not it rises to the appropriate level of "intellectual creativity" (however that might be defined).

The Open AgendaEdit

·         SPARC supports the Budapest definition of Open Access: "By open access, we mean its immediate, free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software or use them for any other lawful purpose." In the taxonomic data context I would imagine the parallel would be the ability to freely download and re-use all the content, not just individual parts of it, and without the requirement to request written permission to do so. The very last thing we need is people taking control over this sort of secondary data. That would be COMPLETELY contrary to open access knowledge. We ought not to be going even further down that road! We need to start pulling back from all that crap and say to them "you got paid to provide us with this information, now it is ours to do with what we will".  A number of significant taxonomic data compilations are presently *not* public domain/open access (although no doubt persons would like them to be). See for example:


§ (no derivatives, no commercial use)


§  and more...

In contrast to other exemplar systems (ITIS, GRIN, no doubt more) who make it easy to download their data (see, and impose no restrictions on its re-use.

·         Why do you need to clarify attributions, rights and licensing? To restrain 'rogue operators'? People who want to commercialise name lists?  Daphne Fautin's excellent hexacorallian resource: It's copyright, but its information is freely usable in the old scientific-courtesy sense: 'Cite as: Fautin, Daphne G. 2013. Hexacorallians of the World.'. Or the Australian millipede checklist:'The text and data on this website are my own work or compilation, and are copyright under a Creative Commons license (attribution + non-commercial, by-nc). You are welcome to use or copy the information on the Millipedes of Australia website for non-commercial purposes. Please cite the Millipedes of Australia URL in your work together with the date you accessed the information). Or the Australian Faunal Directory, a free online database run by the Australian government and built from numerous bottom-up compilations: It seems that everybody in the bottom-up game is happy with making data freely available within the scientific-courtesy framework or its Web equivalents, like CC.

·         I suspect outfits like CoL etc. will overstate their actual legal rights in order to constrain use of their data by others in ways they might not be completely happy with. There are now hundreds of pages on Wikispecies which cite CoL, e.g., without "permission". The Wikispecies page links to the relevant CoL page. This means that it attracts traffic to CoL. Anybody who clicks the link on the WS page gets directed to CoL, and CoL gets a hit on their website. This is all good for CoL! I very much doubt whether they would object to this, and, if they did, then I very much doubt that it would be enforceable. At any rate, the links could be replaced by links to EoL, who harvest from CoL...

· view is that whatever we do in terms of data content should be CC0 (totally public domain). 

·         I am all for Open Free Access to all scientific data but: Anything obtained for free in rarely valued

·         we surely don't want to end up in a situation where we have a World Wide Web, but cannot upload any actual information/data without either being the copyright holder or first paying the copyright holder, and are similarly constrained on what we can do with that data in terms of using it to build a new and useful resource. At the extreme, this road could lead to someone (person or institution) having to be paid before you get permission to use the binomen Homo sapiens on a web page or even in a scientific paper or book!

·         Rod Page's post on release of the Plant List in 2010 (1m+ plant names, the first "comprehensive" global treatment) is still pertinent:

Why won't The Plant List won't let me do this?

In my last post I discussed why I thought the decision of The Plant List to use a restrictive license (CC-BY-NC-ND) was such a poor choice. CC-BY-NC-ND states that you may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.To make this point more concrete, I've created the site "Experiments with The Plant List" to show the kinds of things that The Plant List's choice of license prevents the taxonomic community from doing. As a first step I'm exploring linking the names in the list to the primary scientific literature, as this video (The Plant List from Roderic Page on Vimeo) demonstrates:

           For example, we can take a name like Begonia zhengyiana Y.M.Shui, parse the bibliographic citation provided by The Plant List (via IPNI), and locate the actual paper online, in this case it's freely available as a PDF. Now we can see a drawing of the plant, and instead of simply trusting that the compilers of The Plant List have correctly interpreted this paper, we can see for ourselves. Down the track, we could imagine mining this paper for details about the plant, such as its morphology and geographic distribution. This requires the link to the original literature, which The Plant List lacks. A good chunk of the recent plant taxonomic literature has DOIs, for example journals such as the Kew Bulletin and Novon. Playing with some scripts I've managed to associate nearly 9000 accepted names with a DOI, and that's by looking at only a few journals. There are lots more DOIs to be found, but because of the way botanical nomenclators record references (see my post Nomenclators + digitised literature = fail) it can be something of a challenge to find them. This task isn't helped by the fairly lax way some publishers enter data in CrossRef (Cambridge University Press I'm looking at you). The other obvious source of digitised literature is, of course, BHL, and that's next on the list of resources to play with. Experiments with The Plant List is very crude, and I've barely scratched the surface of linking names to primary literature. That said, given that there are exactly zero links between names and digital literature in The Plant List, I'd argue that my site adds value to the data in that The Plant List. And that's my point — by making data available for others to play with, you enable others to add value to that data. By choosing a CC-BY-NC-ND license, The Plant List has killed that possibility.

So, my question for The Plant List is "why did you do that?"

iPhylo. ISSN 2051-8188. TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2011


·         There is a distinction here which may not have been made clear between aggregators and their source databases. The questions of funding and attribution surely apply differently in each case? Things can get rather complicated if you get your data from EoL, who gets it from CoL, who gets it from source databases. Who to cite? Who controls the data?  As I understand it, statements like: "The database as a whole is to be cited as follows: Appeltans W, Bouchet P, Boxshall GA, De Broyer C, de Voogd NJ, Gordon DP, Hoeksema BW, Horton T, Kennedy M, Mees J, Poore GCB, Read G, Stöhr S, Walter TC, Costello MJ. (eds) (2012). World Register of Marine Species. Accessed at on 2013-03-06.'" is to be understood as simply a recommended form of citation, not a requirement.

·         Attribution is good practice but only required if the CC or other 'permission' required it. I think this is why it is important to ascertain and keep copyright so the holder can then formally complain about a breach of the license of use.

Fear over loss of credit or financial supportEdit

·         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

·         A key reason not to give an entire database away (but make its items of content open-access online) is the real concern that another group will get funding that is based on the database but not return any funds to its creators and developers to help them continue it.  The excellent WoRMS  is open about its funding, gives credit its specialist volunteers for the many hours they've put in to making WoRMS so good, and even asks potential funders to 'Please consider sponsoring our taxonomic experts'. WoRMS also emphasises that 'All WoRMS content is open-access and available at no charge'. So WoRMS doesn't have commercial arrangements with compilers that might re-use its data? WoRMS draws from many other, mainly taxon-specific databases. Does it pay for the re-use of data taken from those sources, to 'help them continue it'? I'd be interested to see public disclosure of some other arrangements, too.   EoL currently lists more than 200 'content partners' which share information with EoL, and get 'services' in return ( Do any content partners also get direct funding from EoL? EoL uses CoL as its 'taxonomic backbone'. How much does EoL pay CoL annually for that taxonomic service? 

Relevance / IrrelevanceEdit

·         I get the impression that arrangements between content providers and re-users vary a lot, and maybe one goal of the upcoming workshop (announced at the start of this thread) is to regularise arrangements by moving towards a legal framework and a recognised marketplace for trading in scientific names, as we already have for plant varieties.

·         I don't know whether to weep or, well, I just want to weep. This is what we aspire to, squabbling over who gets credit for what are usually crap lists of names from mostly undocumented sources? Instead of shooting for the moon we argue about who get's their name on what part of a rocket we haven't managed to build yet. Sigh.

·         I'm really struggling to understand what the upcoming workshop and this discussion is about. Are you trying to push CoL towards CC 0? Daphne Fautin, too? Me from CC BY-NC to CC 0?


·         a summary of various flavours of CC licenses that will be of assistance:


·         Those patent applications give the impression that someone is trying to claim, as a "new invention", the processes that any good taxonomist must work through.  Perhaps I should patent my particular methods of choice for conducting a biological survey or for writing a monograph.


·        Well now! I guess given the number of greedy and territorial people out  there, some of whom are taxonomists, this audacious attempt to takedata out of the public domain was bound to raise its ugly head at some stage!

·         there is obviously a "pro-copyright everything faction" of some description out there, so it is an audacious attempt by them, whoever they are

·         It seems to me (not wanting to sound like some sort of "conspiracy theorist") that there is a faction out there who want to control everything for $$$, and, if they had their way

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