Why AntWeb images are not free

CASENT0172636 Dorylus nigricans sjostedti from AntWeb.org, photographer: April Nobile

I am very pleased when images from AntWeb.org (an online database of images, specimen records, country lists, and natural history information on ants) are republished in taxonomic publications. I agree that AntWeb images (and for that matter all taxonomic-relevant data, as in the policy espoused by PLAZI.org) should be completely free and open. In 2017 we aim to improve AntWeb’s API to provide even greater access to data and images to encourage research and re-use.

However, I’ve also noticed that in recent taxonomic publications, authors have failed to credit AntWeb images they are republishing, even when AntWeb images represent almost all of the illustrations in the publication. This lack of attribution has gotten me thinking about attribution, open resources, and the need to teach students how to utilize big data and online open resources.

Taxonomy and attribution

Science is built upon the discoveries, achievements, and insights of researchers who came before us. It is critical for scientists to show which works they have used as springboards for their own new findings. The practice of citing foundational works — and establishing a lineage for the ideas being discussed — is even more important in taxonomy. Linking to original sources such as specimens and images not only provides attribution but forges links to the raw data.

I regret not spending more time on this topic during the Ant Courses (antcourse.org). If I had, I would have discussed both the need to link to original sources through citing and attribution, but also the principle that a free image is not free. Considerable financial resources and human efforts are required to build online resources such as AntWeb, AntCat, PLAZI, Antbase, AntWiki, Hymenoptera Online, AntMaps, and GLAD. While these repositories are all meant to be used by scientists, students, and the general public, the information they provide must always be cited. Because the future of these resources depends on acknowledgement of their utility. Citations are key to demonstrating that a source remains relevant and helpful.

Be a Contributor

To remain relevant, these resources also must be continually improved and anyone can help bolster these online collections. For example, if you included your own ant images in a taxonomic publication, why not submit them to AntWeb? If you’ve included specimen records in your taxonomic revision, why not provide them to AntWeb?

Expansions make these resources stronger by improving their completeness, and widening the amount of data that can be analyzed.

I cite articles, but do I really have to cite online images found on AntWeb?

Following the conventions of scholarship, the original source of any re-used element such as images should be attributed. Attribution is the accepted mechanism of providing credit for work by others, even images and use of databases. And even if they are not copyrighted.

The data use policy on AntWeb is based on goodwill and follows ethical and scholarly standards. Anyone who republishes AntWeb resources is expected to cite the author and original source of all AntWeb images and data they use.

This policy is stated on every page of AntWeb as well as the Citing AntWeb page: https://www.antweb.org/citing_antweb.jsp

In print, each image must include attribution to its photographer and “from www.AntWeb.org" in the figure caption.

Simply acknowledging that AntWeb in the acknowledgement does not meet scholarly standards since it does not indicate which images were taken from AntWeb or who took the image.

The tradition of attribution has served science well and benefits both the cited with credit and the user with a reputation for integrity. Failing to clearly recognize the photographer and source of the image wrongly implies that the current author is the source of the image and not AntWeb. Even if images are not copyrighted, follow the established practice of including attribution with each image use.

For more on copyright law and attribution, check out the recent opinion piece by Egloff and Agosti: http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2016/11/11/087015.article-info.