Monday, November 14, 2016

Copyright and the Use of Images as Biodiversity Data

170px Copyright svgWilli Egloff, Donat Agosti, Puneet Kishor, David Patterson, and Jeremy A. Miller have published an interesting preprint entitled “Copyright and the Use of Images as Biodiversity Data”
DOI:10.1101/087015 in which they argue that taxonomic images aren't copyrightable. I'm not convinced, and have commented on the bioRxiv site. Frustratingly bioRxiv puts comments into a moderation queue (in my opinion the stupidest thing to do if you want to enable conversation) so I've posted my comment here.

It seems to me that there are two deeply problematic aspects to this claim. The first is that taxonomic illustration is not creative. This seems, at best, arguable. I've illustrated new species, and it sure felt like I was doing creative work. Arguably every creative work adheres to conventions of a discipline, how does this by itself make copyright irrelevant?

Secondly, I'm unconvinced that a legal opinion that hasn't been tested in a court is worth much. We can assert whatever interpretation of copyright we want, I doubt that would stop legal action by a person or organisation that felt it could benefit from such action. The real question will be whether treating taxonomic images as outside of copyright would be considered a sufficient threat to someone's business model for them to take action.

I completely support the idea that the images (and all taxonomic-relevant data) should be completely free and open, but simply asserting that it should be doesn't make it so.