[Taxacom] Botanical Plagiarism

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Mon Mar 11 16:59:27 CDT 2013


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 relating to biodiversity
- (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

[The last one is the one I think we should be focused on, much more-so than
the databases of facts themselves.]

The trouble is, there is a lot of territory between those two realms, where
the moral/ethical/legal ground is much more ambiguous.

For example, suppose an expert working for WoRMS spends months researching a
particular species, and compiles a list of names he/she thinks represent
junior heterotypic synonyms, and does extensive research to figure out the
global distribution (beyond points on a map), and does any number of
value-added things that are not obviously just fact-indexing.  In my mind,
that effort is very much within the realm of a creative work, and
intellectual property rights for the expert should be honored.  Whatever
agreement the expert has with WoRMS to expose that information via the WoRMS
website is between the expert and WoRMS.

Now....suppose WoRMS exposes that information publicly.  In my mind, it
becomes a fact that the indicated expert on the WoRMS page asserted that
Taxon X is a junior heterotypic synonym of Taxon Y, and I can't see how that
fact would be copyrightable.  Merely by stating that the expert is the one
who asserted the synonymy, credit is being given where credit is due (again,
whether that should be represented as "sensu Expert", "sensu WoRMS", or
perhaps "sensu Expert fide WoRMS", is something that should be determined by
the expert and WoRMS).

On the other hand, the collection of information represented on that web
page -- at least the part that required intellectual creativity to assemble,
should be respected as copyright-able; and there should be protections
against some fly-by-night organization screen-scraping the entire content of
that page and representing it as its own original work without proper
attribution to WoRMS and/or the expert.

There is a lot of murky stuff in this realm -- and ultimately I think it's
our community's responsibility to figure out where the line should be drawn.

Not an easy topic.

Aloha,
Rich


> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
> Sent: Monday, March 11, 2013 11:13 AM
> To: Robin Leech; 'Mark J. Costello'; 'TAXACOM'
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Botanical Plagiarism
> 
> Yes, of course! But subsequent use of the *name* is not subject to
> copyright! In fact, there is no legal requirement to attribute a name to
the
> correct authority, just an ICZN requirement! The issue here is whether
> secondary compilations of species names are subject to copyright, to which
I
> answer "certainly not!" Sites like WoRMS just have to take it on the chin,
if
> someone rips off their "hard work" ...
> 
> Stephen
> 
> 
> ________________________________
> From: Robin Leech <releech at telus.net>
> To: 'Stephen Thorpe' <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; 'Mark J. Costello'
> <markcost at gmail.com>; 'TAXACOM' <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> Sent: Tuesday, 12 March 2013 10:00 AM
> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Botanical Plagiarism
> 
> 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.
> Robin
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen
> Thorpe
> Sent: March-11-13 1:59 PM
> To: Mark J. Costello; 'TAXACOM'
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Botanical Plagiarism
> 
> Mark Costello wrote:
> 
> >I understand that while individual facts cannot be copyrighted,
> >original compilations can (e.g. a species list within some context).<
> 
> 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)!
> Suppose the country of "Costelloland" only has one species, Markus
> biodiversitatis ... a described species. Suppose I make a website on the
biota
> of Costelloland. Can I copyright that? I think not! The issue isn't just
that
> there is only a single species. It is rather that I can get the
information straight
> from primary sources (in this case the original description of the
species).
> Nobody can tell if I got the name from the original description or from
the
> secondary website ...
> 
> Stephen
> 
> From: Mark J. Costello <markcost at gmail.com>
> To: 'TAXACOM' <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> Sent: Monday, 11 March 2013 10:28 PM
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Botanical Plagiarism
> 
> I understand that while individual facts cannot be copyrighted, original
> compilations can (e.g. a species list within some context). However,
images
> are not really facts and each one can be copyrighted (as they usually
are).
> 
> 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 licence of
> use.
> 
> We had a World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) database downloaded
> and published as a book, for sale on Amazon. As owner of the IP and
> copyright of the WoRMS content, our society formally complained to the
> publisher who removed it from their publication list in 2 weeks without
> further comment.
> One of our colleagues wrote a book review on Amazon pointing out the
> source of the book and that its content, now updated, was available for
free
> online. I am not sure if we would have had such good grounds to complain
if
> the author had actually attributed the source of the content because
> arguably the re-organisation of the facts would have been a new creation.
> 
> The only thing WoRMS asks users to do is cite the source (e.g. web page,
> database as a whole) and the citation is at the foot of every page. Still
many
> scientists do not do so :)
> 
> Best wishes
> Mark
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Arthur
> Chapman
> Sent: Friday, 8 March 2013 9:43 a.m.
> To: TAXACOM
> Subject: [Taxacom] Botanical Plagiarism
> 
> The following blog by Mark Watson about some botanical books that have
> been appearing recently - all derived from internet sources without
> attribution.may be of interest
> 
> http://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/1321
> 
> Arthur D. Chapman
> Ballan, Australia
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> Celebrating 26 years of Taxacom in 2013.
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