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Thread: Copyright? Species descriptions?

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    kayaker78's Avatar
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    Copyright? Species descriptions?

    I have a question for those either familiar with copyright law or those in the scientific community. I am wondering if copyrights are applicable to a species description. For example, I am going to be building a website where I would like to have very accurate species descriptions for Utricularia along with detailed care information for each species, I am wondering if I can obtain these from the original publication where the species was described or from a source like Taylor’s monograph. I understand that facts cannot be copyrighted but cannot generally be copied word for word, things need to be put into your own words…. but I feel that with a species description such as,
    Rhizoids absent. Stolons numerous, filiform branched, up to 30cm long, 0.1-0.3 mm thick, internodes 1.5-10 cm long, sometimes swollen at or near the peduncle base, and at the nodes, to form globose or broadly ovoid tubers, 5-6 mm long. Leaves few, 2-4 at the……
    cannot and should not be changed as rewording it to make it your own may change meaning or interpretation. I also think that keeping the description the same from publication to publication would serve the purpose of keeping everyone on the same page. Additionally the purpose of the site that I would like to build would be to provide information on cultivating the various species and not specifically to provide taxonomic information, the purpose of species description being included would be so that those growing the plant would be able to confirm what they have as many do not have access to Taylor’s book and other publications.

    Does anyone have any opinions or experience with this? Sources of the information would be cited…

    Thanks!

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    wicked good plants! Presto's Avatar
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    From the copyright.gov website:
    "The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.” "
    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html
    (emphases mine)


    I agree, directly copying the species descriptions is definitely the best way to maintain the integrity of the information.

    What is the nature of the website you want to build? If it is a non-profit, educational website, then I think properly quoting and citing the short species descriptions should be OK under fair use.

    But if you really want to make sure you're covered, contact the copyright owner and get permission.
    -Emily

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    kayaker78's Avatar
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    Its primary purpose will be educational and for me to use the basic skills that I learned recently and practice skills I will learn later when I start taking more web design/developement courses.

    Some of the species descriptions are pretty long, but they are primarily just facts with little else...

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    wicked good plants! Presto's Avatar
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    Yeah, I see what you're saying, but original content is original content...regardless if that content is facts and figures, or personal observations, or opinion, or art.

    It is a tough call. Even the Copyright Office admits there is gray area with this sort of thing. I think you would be OK simply with properly cited quotations, since it would be an educational website and you wouldn't be making any money off of it. But the only way to be 100% totally sure is to obtain permission from the copyright holder.

    Another thing you might want to think about is the proportion of your website that would be species descriptions versus your own original content. If it's largely going to be a collection of the quoted descriptions, with a sentence or two describing how you grow them, that's probably less OK than say if it was a long description of your experiences with the species, with the quoted species descriptions to back you up.
    -Emily

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    kayaker78's Avatar
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    I am thinking that a technical species description is objective information that uses defined terms and measurements that follow a logical or natural sequence of statements. If the description of the content or order is changed it can easily change the meaning.

    I know that facts cannot be copyrighted and the below quotes seem like simple facts.
    Rhizoids absent.
    Stolons numerous, filiform branched, up to 30cm long, 0.1-0.3 mm thick, internodes 1.5-10 cm long, sometimes swollen at or near the peduncle base, and at the nodes, to form globose or broadly ovoid tubers, 5-6 mm long.
    Leaves few, 2-4 at the peduncle base, and solitary at the stolon nodes, shortly petiolate, the lamina elliptic to broadly elliptic, with the base cuneate and the apexrounded, 3-7 mm wide, thinly fleshy, multinerved, total length 1 – 1.5 cm.
    If the above quotes were protected by copyright it would probably make it difficult for anyone going forward to objectively describe the species in writing without violation the copy right or creating confusion down the road for those discussing the species.

    Long term I plan on this content only being a small portion of what is on the site, but in the beginning for some species it may be a more significant portion of the listed information as it is going to take a lot of time to write everything up and I’m hoping on filling in the descriptions etc. first.

    I’m really hoping that there is an established standard for using this type of descriptions that I can rely on.

    I do plan on asking for permission but Im guessing that getting it may be difficult.

    ---------- Post added at 07:28 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:16 PM ----------

    I know that there are generally 4 tests under the fair use principle... I think that I am ok when it comes to 3 of the 4..
    The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
    Ok here as it is for nonprofit educational purposes…
    The nature of the copyrighted work
    Should be ok here because the portion of the work I want is a collection of objective facts…
    The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
    This is what concerns me because if we look at each individual species in Taylor’s work for example, the description of the species may make up ½ of what is written, however, on the other hand, this portion of it is in my opinion a statement of facts which may not be copyrightable?
    The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.
    I’m pretty sure I am ok here because the value of this work should come from the discussion and other information included and not solely from the description of the species. I should not be impacting the market or value of the original work.

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    An example of what I have in mind... http://www.genlisea.com/

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