Want free-to-use silhouettes of organisms? PhyloPic is here!
February 3, 2012
I’m very aware that I’ve been whining incessantly on this blog recently: RWA this, Elsevier that, moan whine complain. So I’m delighted to be able to bring some good news. Mike Keesey’s site PhyloPic.org is back up, in new and improved form, and providing free silhouettes of organisms extincts and extant. To quote the site’s FAQ:
PhyloPic‘s database stores reusable silhouette images of organisms. Each image is associated with one or more taxonomic names and indicates roughly what the ancestral member(s) of each taxon looked like.
PhyloPic also stores a phylogenetic taxonomy of all organisms. This means that you can perform phylogenetic searches. For example, if you need an image for a certain taxon, but there is no exact match in the database, you can easily search that taxon’s supertaxa, subtaxa, and related taxa for an image that may work as well.
For example, there is a page about Giraffatitan brancai, which includes a link to a silhouette by Scott Hartman; and a page about Brachiosaurus altithorax, which has two silhouettes — one by Scott and one by me.
More interestingly, for each taxon, you can ask for an illustrated lineage. For example, the illustrated lineage of Giraffatitan brancai starts with that animal, then works its way up via images for Brachiosauridae, Titanosauriformes, Camarasauromorpha, and continues up through a total of 36 images, finishing up with Holozoa, Cytota and Panbiota.
Better still, because all the images are available to re-use (subject to some restrictions which I’ll discuss below), you’re free to use them to make collages like this one, which Mike Keesey did for our friend Giraffatitan brancai:
One of the great things about this site is that it’s a community effort: Mike built the site and has prepared a good chunk of the artwork so far, but PhyloPic is open to submissions from anyone who cares to register (or to login via Google, Twitter, etc.)
Mike has allowed some latitude in the licences that can be used when images are added. You can currently choose from any of:
- Public Domain Mark 1.0 [for declaring that an image is already PD]
- Public Domain Dedication 1.0 [for putting an image into the PD]
- Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
- Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported
- Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
- Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
That choice is nice for contributing artists, but makes life a bit more awkward for users because any composite artwork has to be licenced under the most restrictive combination of the licences of its parts. In the case of the collage above, because Scott’s Giraffatitan brancai was uploaded as CC-BY-NC-SA, that’s how the whole image ends up, too. This means that if, say, you want to make T-shirts on Cafe Press with this image on them, you’ll have a bit of nightmare figuring out exactly who you need to get permission from.
Mike has to walk a fine line with this. The images would be most useful to the world if they were all public domain and could be remixed, reused and reproduced with no restrictions whatsoever; but you can’t blame artists for wanting to put some limits on this. Yet even when the most permissive non-public domain licence is used (CC-BY), the light requirement that the image must be credited ends up as a heavy requirement when, as with the collage above, you use thirty images that all need to be acknowledged.
Anyway, these are wrinkles. The point is: free, re-usable art! Go and use it; and add to it!