Credit where it’s due

January 11, 2008

A hat-tip to Paul Barrett, who’s reminded us that technically we’re not supposed to be using photographs of Natural History Museum specimens — at least, not without acknowledgement. Our apologies go the museum for having overlooked this: we’d like to remind you all that all photographs of specimens owned by the museum are also copyright the museum, and we’ll try to remember to make that point explicitly in all future posts that show NHM specimens.

For the same reason, unfortunately, we can’t sell you Xenposeidon shirts — to do that would require a marketing agreement with the museum, which is not really a direction we want to go in … as you can imagine. So with apologies to those of you who didn’t snap one up while they were available, we’ve removed all the links from this site. (Congratulations to Mike From Ottawa, who, so far as I can tell, is in fact the only person outside the three of us who had the good taste to buy a shirt. Note to NHM commercial staff: our markup on that sale was £0.00 (or $0.00 in US funds) which we will be happy to hand over if you wish :-)

Finally, since we do promise “all sauropod vertebrae, all the time”, I sign off with a photograph: and a historically significant one at that:

Cetiosaurus brevis type caudals and chevrons

Image copyright the Natural History Musuem, since it’s the museum’s material.

What we have here are, in a sense, the first sauropod specimens ever: the caudal vertebrae, and associated chevrons, that are the type material of the first named sauropod species, Cetiosaurus brevis Owen 1842. From the Wealden, natch. The vertebrae, from the anterior part of the tail, are BMNH R2544­-2547, and are shown in anterior view; the chevrons are BMNH R2548-­2550. These elements may belong to the same species, and maybe even the same individual, as the holotype of Pelorosaurus conybeari Mantell 1950. If you care to wade through the taxonomic quagmire associated with this series, you can find a discussion on pp. 1559-1560 of Taylor and Naish (2007) (the Xenoposeidon paper) — a discussion which I am more than happy to state, for the record, Darren wrote.

Update — 1 April 2009 (but not an April Fool)

Cetiosaurus brevis is not after all the first validly named Cetiosaurus species, because we (Darren and I) followed Upchurch and Martin (2003) in conflating nomenclatural and taxonomic validity. According to a strict interpretation of ICZN rules, C. medius is the type species, but we now have an ICZN petition out that should change that and fix C. oxoniensis as the type species, which is what everyone means in practice anyway.


12 Responses to “Credit where it’s due”

  1. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    Image copyright the Natural History Musuem, since it’s the museum’s material.

    Only if the photographer has assigned his copyright to the NHM by contract (or is their employee). Your photo of their material is subject only to your own copyright. Now, they’d be within their rights as the owners of the material to require you to agree that they will own copyright in the photos or that your permission to make use of the photos is subject to some conditions, but I wouldn’t like you to leave people with the impression that, as a general principle, copyright in a photo of an object in which copyright doesn’t subist automatically vests with the owner of the object.

    [Usual disclaimers about not being legal advice, see your own lawyer, always wear clean underwear because you never know when you’ll be hit by a bus while carrying a Xenoposeidon vertebra, have it fall on your head as a result, and end up in hospital – hopefully only you in hospital because your head will grow back but they’re not making any new Xenoposeidon’s these days, more’s the pity.]

    Can you tell the day job is kicking in there? And that I’m at the end of it?

    Oh, and I feel very superior the great unwashed masses knowing that my Xenoposeidon t-shirt is one of only 4 people on the planet to have bought one. If I’d known it was a limited time offer, I’d have bought a couple more. I’ve worn it a few times among family and friends and folk have actually listened while I gave a short explanation of what it is and why it’s significant and they haven’t started yawning and muttering something about having to go and check to see if they left their car running! I think part of that is that it doesn’t look like a lump of stone, but looks like bone, which makes for more of a connnection to it. The real thing always carries more resonance than any cast, or replication, however perfect.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Lots to reply to, but I’ll limit myself to one comment: yes, of course you’re right, in general the copyright of a photo is not owned by the owner of the photographed object. However, the owner of an object (such as a sauropod vertebra) is quite within its rights to forbid photography all together, or to permit it only under certain conditions. Now as it happens, I’ve never seen or signed an NHM photography policy, and I can’t find one on their web-site, but I’ll bet it says “Photographs may be taken on the condition that copyright of all photos is held by the musuem”. And by taking photos in their collections at all I’ve been tacitly agreeing to that condition.

    (Paul, if you’re reading this, it would be good to see a copy of the policy some time, if only to check that it doesn’t say anything about my firstborn son.)

  3. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    As much as I’m sure you’ve been in the NHM, if you haven’t come across anything, they’re seriously remiss in their efforts to make their conditions known (and they do have to make an effort if they want you bound), so you’re doing them a favour bringing it to their attention. In this case, it’s kind of moot anyway, because I’m sure any paleontologist wants to remain in the NHM’s good graces.

  4. Paul Barrett Says:

    Hi Mikes,

    The situation is as follows:

    The NHM grants permission for bona fide researchers to take images for their own private use and for use in academic publication. We waive copyright in such cases. Use of such photographs in other areas is not permitted, however, unless an agreement is reached with the NHM. NHM asserts the right to retain copyright on all images of its material unless this is specifically waived on application. Researchers are told this when they visit the collection – these days we may also make researchers sign a declaration to this end (now becoming standard practice not only in the NHM, but in other museums around the world too – I’ve had to sign several myself).

    Cheers, Paul

  5. John Conway Says:

    @Paul Barrett,

    Do you know why is this done? I don’t see any good reasons for museums claiming copyright over photographs of specimens in their collections – and actually think it’s morally shady to do so in museums that are mostly public-funded.

  6. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    I don’t think it’s morally shady at all.

    The NHM’s position seems eminently reasonable to me: they’re not charging or restricting bona fide researchers but wanting to have other uses subject to prior agreement. Some of that is probably to do with wanting to see that their collection and work are not misrepresented and some will be to do with wanting a cut of any commercial exploitation of the museum’s collection. That’s totally legitimate. Folk who financially benefit from the collection can afford to chip in so the museum can maintain itself (among other things like having basic admission free). It’s not like governments just hand over all the money a museum cares to asks for these days.

    More’s the pity there. I’m sure plenty of folk involved in museums would prefer to spend time on things other than trying to scrounge for cash. I’m sure there’s also useful work they could and would do but for the lack of money.

  7. John Conway Says:

    How much money do museums make selling the photographic rights to their collections? In any case, it doesn’t justify the position. Museums could mug people to make money too, but they probably shouldn’t.

    The idea that someone owns the rights to other people’s photographs of a fossil is not only morally wrong, in my opinion, but somewhat laughable. Museums shouldn’t own our natural heritage, they should be the guardians of it.

    Now, I understand why museums have to restrict physical access to their collections – that’s a necessary evil – but that makes it all the more desirable to have photographs readily accessible to anybody.

  8. […] rare condition in sauropods, in fact unique as far as I know.  As we’ve shown here and here, among other places, the chevrons are usually separate bones from the […]

  9. […] it.  Similarly, all photographs of fossils held by the Natural History Museum in London are copyright the museum.  If you want to re-use any of the non-original material, you’ll need to track down the […]

  10. išiass Says:

    I think that it’s pretty clear – if a museum has public funding as a main source of it’s budget, EVERYTHING what is exhibited and stored there and published from there must be creative commons! Other-ways it’s like to charge your own mother for “using” of your room (in her house), when she brings you a cup of coffy and butter-broad she purchased.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Actually, I increasingly agree with this perspective, and plan to write about it soon. That being said, the NHM policy is what it is, and until that changes we have to admit that we on this blog put ourselves on the museum’s policy. So we’re grateful for Paul for having sorted out the short-term issue; and we’ll start to push on the longer-term one when we can.

  12. […] that, whatever this specimen might be, it ain’t Pelorosaurus, which is based on the “Cetiosaurus” brevis caudals and a much more slender […]

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