Tutorial 32: How to ensure that no-one will ever use your PhyloPic silhouettes

May 25, 2017

Step 1: Include the Share-Alike provision in your Creative Commons license, as in the mysteriously popular CC BY-SA and CC BY-NC-SA.

Step 2: Listen to the crickets. You’re done. Congratulations! No-one will ever use your silhouette in a scientific paper, and they probably won’t use your stuff in talks or posters either. Luxuriate in your obscurity and wasted effort.

Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis by Andrew A. Farke, CC BY 3.0, courtesy of PhyloPic.org.

Background

PhyloPic is the incredibly useful thing that Mike Keesey made where makers upload silhouettes of organisms and then people can use them in papers, posters, talks, on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and so on.

At least, they can if the image license allows it. And tons of them don’t, because people include the stupid Non-Commercial (NC) and even stupider Share-Alike (SA) provisions in their image licenses. (Need a refresher on what those are? See the tutorial on licenses.)

Why are these things dumb? Well, you could make a case for NC, but it will still probably kill most potential uses of your images. Most journals are run by companies — well, most are run by incredibly rapacious corporations that extract insane profits from the collective suckerhood that is academia — and using such an image in a for-profit journal would break the Non-Commercial clause. Even open-access journals are a bit murky.

But Share-Alike is way, way worse. What it means is that any derivative works that use material released under CC-BY-SA have to be released under that license as well. Share-Alike came to us from the world of software, where it actually has some important uses, which Mike will expand upon in the next post. But when it comes to PhyloPic or pretty much any other quasi-academic arena, including the Share-Alike provision is misguided.

As of this writing, PhyloPic has two silhouettes of Panphagia. I can actually show you this one, because it doesn’t have the Share-Alike license attached. The other one is inaccessible. Image by Ricardo N. Martinez and Oscar A. Alcober, CC BY 3.0, courtesy of PhyloPic.org.

Why not Share-Alike?

Why is Share-Alike so dumb for PhyloPic? It’s a viral license that in this context accomplishes nothing for the creator. Because the downstream material must also be CC BY-SA (minimally, or CC BY-NC-SA), almost any conceivable use is prevented:

  • People can’t use the images in barrier-based journals, because they’re copyrighted.
  • People can’t use the images in almost all OA journals, because they’re CC BY, and authors can’t just impose a more restrictive license on them willy-nilly.
  • People can’t use the images in their talks or posters, unless they want to make their talks and posters CC BY-SA. Even people who do release their talks and posters out into the wild are probably going to use CC BY if they use anything; they care about being cited, not about forcing downstream users to adopt a pointlessly restrictive license.
  • People probably can’t use the images on t-shirts or bumper stickers; at least, I have a hard time imagining how a physical object could meet the terms of CC BY-SA, unless it’s being given away for free. And even if one could, most downstream creators probably won’t want the headache — they’ll grab a similar image released under a less restrictive license and move on.
  • I can’t even blog the CC BY-SA images because everything we put on this blog is CC BY (except where noted by a handful of more restrictive museum image use policies), and it would more than a little ironic to make this one post CC BY-SA, which it would have to be if it included CC BY-SA images.

You may think I’m exaggerating the problem. I’m not. If you look at the Aquilops paper (Farke et al. 2014), you’ll see a lot of ceratopsian silhouettes drawn by Andy Farke. We were making progress on the paper and when it came time to finish the illustrations, most of the silhouettes we needed had the Share-Alike provision, which made them useless to us. So Andy drew his own. And while he was doing that, I took some of my old sauropod drawings and converted them to silhouettes and uploaded them. Both of us used CC BY, because all we care about is getting cited. And now people are using — and citing! — Andy’s and my drawings in preference to others, some arguably better (at least for the sauropods), that have pointlessly restrictive licenses.

So we have this ridiculous situation where a ton of great images on PhyloPic are essentially unusable, because people put them up under a license that sounds cool but actually either outright blocks or at least has a chilling effect on almost any conceivable use.

Is this a good silhouette of Camarasaurus? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s beside the point: this is currently the only silhouette of Camarasaurus on PhyloPic that you can actually use. By Mathew Wedel, CC BY 3.0, courtesy of PhyloPic.org.

What I do about this

Here’s my take: I care about one thing and one thing only, which is credit. All I need is CC BY. If someone wants to take my stuff and put it in a product and charge a profit, I say go for it — because legally every copy of that product has to have my name on it somewhere, credited as the creator of the image. I may not be making any money off that product, but I’m at least getting exposure. If I go CC BY-NC, then I also don’t get any money, and now I don’t even get that exposure. Why would I hack my own foot off like that? And I don’t use CC BY-SA because I don’t write software, so it has only downsides to offer me.

Now, there are certainly artists in the world with sufficient talent to sell t-shirts and prints. But even for them I’m skeptical that CC BY-NC has much to offer for their PhyloPic silhouettes. I know we’re all nuts around here for monochrome filled outlines of dead animals, but let’s be real, they’re a niche market at best for clothing and lifestyle goods. Personally I’d rather get the citations than prevent someone in Birmingham or Bangkok from selling cladogram t-shirts with tiny copies of my drawings, and I think that would still be true even if I was a professional artist.

What you should do about this

I suspect that a lot of people reading this post are dinosaur enthusiasts. If you are, and you’d like to get your name into published scientific work (whether you pursue writing and publishing yourself or not), get drawin’, and upload those babies using CC-BY. Make sure it is your own original work, not just a skin thrown over someone else’s skeletal recon, and don’t spam PhyloPic with garbage. But if you can execute a technical drawing of a critter, there’s a good chance it will be used and cited. Not only because there are still holes in PhyloPic’s coverage, but because so many otherwise great images on PhyloPic are locked up behind restrictive licenses. To pick an example nearly at random, PhyloPic has two silhouettes of Pentaceratops, and both of them are useless because of the Share-Alike provision in their licenses. You have an opportunity here. Don’t tarry.

If you already uploaded stuff to PhyloPic using CC BY-SA for whatever reason (it sounded cool, Joe Chill murdered your folks, you didn’t realize that it was academic reuse equivalent of radioactive syphilis), change it or replace it. Because all it is doing right now is driving PhyloPic users to other people’s work. Really, honestly, all you are doing is wasting your time by uploading this stuff, and wasting the time of PhyloPic users who have to hover over your pictures to find out that they’re inaccessible.

You don’t get any credit if no-one ever uses your stuff. Or, more precisely, you get 100% of a pie that doesn’t exist. That’s dumb. Stop doing it.

Reference

Farke, A.A., Maxwell, W.D., Cifelli, R.L., and Wedel, M.J. 2014. A ceratopsian dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Western North America, and the biogeography of Neoceratopsia. PLoS ONE 9(12): e112055. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112055

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22 Responses to “Tutorial 32: How to ensure that no-one will ever use your PhyloPic silhouettes”


  1. Or you could, you know, write the creator of the image and just ask them for permission under a different license? There’s a direct link to contact the artist on each and every license page.

    I’m happy to concede that the SA license makes the images less useful in a wide range of uses. While I at times have my own reasons for not wanting to decrease friction here, I’ve planned for a while to go back and move some submissions (including my Panphagia that you indirectly referenced) off of SA, and you’ll notice that most of my more recent ones are in fact CC-BY or CC-BY-NC (in fact I made some images public domain to assist a project at my school).

    But seriously, why is the basic human decency of contacting the originator of a piece of art so difficult? At any time any of these images can be made available for use under any license by the copyright owner – in fact the specific images that offended you (including my SA Camarasaurus) have been published in for-profit journals based on this simple mechanism. Surely you know that I’d happily let you use any of them on your blog for the asking (as I have in the past). Though obviously it wouldn’t have made your point quite as well.

    Speaking of which – PhyloPic is a search engine for a specific type of product, and it’s one I’ve personally invested many hours into supporting. The tone of your post comes across to me, at least, as venting that it doesn’t meet your additional standards of removing any burden of communication with the people who create these images. I’m sure you didn’t intended it as such, but given the rather large amount of work that goes into creating the art that populates PhyloPic, ragging on the people who do it (for free) feels rather like devaluing their effort. After all, it’s OK for me to spend another hour converting (and say feathering) a theropod that I spent ~40 hours on already to make it available at no financial benefit to me, but it’s such a huge burden for you to simply click the contact button and drop me a line when the licensing doesn’t suit you that it deserves a long, sarcastic post?

  2. Andy Farke Says:

    FWIW on the Pentaceratops example, those both _could_ be CC-BY, because they originated as silhouettes in a PLOS ONE paper. I suppose it’s fine to repost them as CC-BY-SA because they were modified to some extent by the uploader (to make as silhouettes) and attribution maintained, but an alternative strategy would be for someone else to resubmit as CC-BY.

  3. Matt Wedel Says:

    Or you could, you know, write the creator of the image and just ask them for permission under a different license? There’s a direct link to contact the artist on each and every license page. […] But seriously, why is the basic human decency of contacting the originator of a piece of art so difficult?

    It’s not difficult, but it’s not the most obvious route. For example, on your Camarasaurus silhouette, the “If you need this right to be waived, please contact the submitter” clause is attached to the NC, not the SA, which certainly gives the impression that you’re willing to waive the former but not the latter.

    Second, lets say a creator is willing to waive the ShareAlike provision to get work into an OA journal. Since almost all OA journals that have explicit licenses use CC BY, the version of the image that goes into the journal will then have been released under the CC BY license in the journal but not in PhyloPic. Assuming the version in the journal is of sufficient resolution to be useful, downstream users are better off just taking the CC BY version from the journal and doing any of the vast array of reuse activities that CC BY allows, instead of negotiating over the CC BY-SA version on PhyloPic.

    Third, I suspect that for many users just seeing CC BY-SA creates a chilling effect. Since the only function of the ShareAlike clause is to enforce the same restriction downstream, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the creator slapped the SA on the image because they really meant it. In which case, why would downstream users have any reason to suspect that they’d be successful in negotiating a less restrictive license from the creator? Surely if the creator is willing to let the image out into the world under a less restrictive license anywhere else – at which point further reuse and modification cannot be prevented – they’d just make the image CC BY on PhyloPic itself, and let everyone benefit. Otherwise they’re hobbling PhyloPic, deliberately or not.

    Yes, anyone can contact you to ask for a less restrictive license. That may seem like a low barrier to you, but it is still a barrier. If I was someone just starting out and I knew you through your work but not personally, I might not have the courage for that social transaction. Little old unknown me is going to write to Scott Damn Hartman, little-g god of paleoart, and ask him to remove a ShareAlike provision that he didn’t explicitly say he was willing to remove? Yeah, right. If you don’t think that potential cost is real, you underestimate both your own stature in the field, and the nervousness of early career researchers, fans, and others who don’t share the same level of prominence.

    Speaking of which – PhyloPic is a search engine for a specific type of product, and it’s one I’ve personally invested many hours into supporting. The tone of your post comes across to me, at least, as venting that it doesn’t meet your additional standards of removing any burden of communication with the people who create these images.

    Yeah, that is absolutely the tone, and deliberately. Because it is a burden. People go out of town and off the grid, they drop out of the scene or leave the profession or change contact information, and eventually they die. Even if they’re available, not everyone is willing to renegotiate the licensing of every image with everyone who comes along, and there’s no way for new users to know who is cool and who is not. I know this doesn’t necessarily apply to you, but many people don’t like to be hassled, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that just because they can be contacted, that such contact would be welcome.

    I’ll turn it around: what do you think that the ShareAlike provision is doing for you, that unadorned CC BY would not? If you just want people to have to ask you to use your art, why not just keep it on your own webpage instead of putting it on PhyloPic? I’m asking only semi-sarcastically – because you are generally quite liberal about giving people permission to use your work, other than forcing people to ask permission, I don’t see any point to the ShareAlike provision. As you said, you obviously value and support PhyloPic, so why make potential users jump through that last, socially intimidating hoop? Tell me what I’m missing.

    (And I say all of this as a friend, and as someone whom you’ve let have the free use of your art many, many times, for which I was, and am, grateful. I didn’t write this post at you – there are plenty of other PhyloPic creators who have posted stuff under CC BY-SA or CC BY-NC-SA, and I want to let them know about the chilling effect that is having on the re-use of their work, and also give literally everyone else a heads up about how to get their own work used and cited. Finally, I know you’ve made a lot of work available without the ShareAlike provision, and I applaud that. I just want to know what you think you’re gaining in the cases where you haven’t.)

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Scott, I completely understand your position on this; but I think you hugely underestimate what a big deal it is for most people to contact someone out of the blue. I know that when I’ve been telling people ways to get hold of papers and suggest “Just email the author”, the most common response is an incredulous “You can do that?” followed by “Oh, but I couldn’t just approach someone out of the blue, I’m no-one”.

    And of course that’s multiplied by the number of silhouettes you want to use, which could easily be ten or twenty. It’s enough friction that I’d probably just use CC By images instead, and call it done.

    Ultimately, the choice of licence is not only the adoption of a legal position, it’s also a social signal of what kinds of re-use the creator wants. Most people will take that at face value.


  5. Hey Matt – You raise good points. Let me start out at the end:

    “And I say all of this as a friend, and as someone whom you’ve let have the free use of your art..”

    Absolutely, and there’s no risk of that changing over this. I appreciate that this wasn’t specifically about me, but I do want to use whatever leverage my voice has here to move the discussion forward.

    “It’s not difficult, but it’s not the most obvious route. For example, on your Camarasaurus silhouette, the “If you need this right to be waived, please contact the submitter” clause is attached to the NC, not the SA, which certainly gives the impression that you’re willing to waive the former but not the latter.”

    I admit I’ve not spent nearly as much time looking at the UI on the “receiving” end, and this bit of design is potentially confusing. But that’s a UI/UX issue, not something specific to artists choosing a license (though seeing as Mike Keesey is a one-man programing team with no personal profit, it’s even less fair to criticize him!).

    “Second, lets say a creator is willing to waive the ShareAlike provision to get work into an OA journal. Since almost all OA journals that have explicit licenses use CC BY, the version of the image that goes into the journal will then have been released under the CC BY license in the journal but not in PhyloPic. Assuming the version in the journal is of sufficient resolution to be useful, downstream users are better off just taking the CC BY version from the journal and doing any of the vast array of reuse activities that CC BY allows, instead of negotiating over the CC BY-SA version on PhyloPic.”

    Yup. This isn’t just true of PhyloPic silhouettes, but also of skeletal reconstructions, or any other type of image submitted to OA journals. This is a significant source of friction between paleoartists and OA publications. Almost everyone else involved in OA publishing sees their career benefit, increased access to your research, etc., but the lack of permanently paid staff paleoartists combined with a frequent lack of foresight from grant writers (and/or granting bodies, or the realities of people just doing research without external funding) means that paleoartists are often asked to contribute images not merely without compensation, but are now being asked to give up their ability to monetize that image in the future (unless there is a resolution constraint baked into to the image, but authors and publishers understandably want to use the best resolution available). We need to shift the culture of funding and grant-writing to make sure researchers are considering these costs early on, not a month or two before they hope to submit for publication (and when the budget is essentially zero). But the interaction of historical models for paleoart use and OA publication is a topic for another time; my point here is that the existence of OA publication (and the problems it causes for some artists) is not an a priori reason to reduce all friction in image use outside of OA. I.e. “You’re giving away some of your art this way, so why not give all of it away like that” is not a compelling argument.

    “Yes, anyone can contact you to ask for a less restrictive license. That may seem like a low barrier to you, but it is still a barrier. If I was someone just starting out and I knew you through your work but not personally, I might not have the courage for that social transaction.”

    That’s a fair criticism. There almost certainly is an opportunity cost of newer researchers (or other potential PhyloPic users) who don’t make contact due to social anxiety. Yet at the same time, I’d ask you how many times have you been turned down when asking to use a PhyloPic image? How many times for any paleoart? I assume the latter has at least a couple of examples, but I also bet they are a vanishingly small percentage of requests. I can say from personal experience that a truly amazing number of people are willing to write and ask a total stranger if they may use their work (some with more reasonable requests than others), so the social capital cost definitely is not shutting down all communication.

    Remember also that the people who supply images to PhyloPic are investing social capital as well, on top of a significant portion of their time. As with anyone else, artists can be plagued by doubt and question their self-worth (I dare say this might be more common with artists than with researchers, though I know it’s part of the larger human condition to not have boundless self confidence). I know several people who had to be encouraged to submit to PhyloPic at all, because putting in time and effort for an enterprise that offers no hope of profit but plenty of opportunity for scrutiny doesn’t exactly pitch itself. This is why I was critiquing the sarcastic tone – imagine as an artist you are already concerned about the whole process (time, being judged, etc.) and like many artists you don’t fully understand copyright – only that more restrictive licenses feel like they are protecting you. While there’s some good info in your post on the implications of SA licensing (and a better link), most of it implicitly mocks those who chose an SA, regardless of how well informed they were when they made it. If you are not sure you want to contribute to this enterprise at all your article would only confirm those fears – “Gee, if I don’t select the right mystery letters my work can be mocked on a completely new axis of critique, so why bother?”

    “I’ll turn it around: what do you think that the ShareAlike provision is doing for you, that unadorned CC BY would not?”

    Friction is not always a bad thing. It’s not just researchers, textbook publishers, and the occasional T-shirt maker that wants to use these images, it’s also anti-science websites, “museums” and bumper sticker makers that have rather more pernicious uses in mind. These are not hypothetical situations, and a more restrictive license helps prevent my name from being posted in association with them (and/or recourse once use is discovered). Also, note that there are not endless choices of license models in the world (or on PhyloPic) – for example there isn’t an option that allows people to use images for diagrams with credit but does not to allow them to modify the outline of the silhouette. If you want some vestige of control you simply have to pick a licensing model with more friction so that people will be more inclined to speak with you before they modify it. PhyloPic allows an artist to loosen up the copyright designation after submission, but never to make it more restrictive (it has to be that way, of course). So if you’re unsure how free you want to be with a specific image you need to start out more restrictive rather than less – I suspect artists that are initially participating probably err on the side of more restrictive initially, and in many cases turn to less restrictive licenses over time (I certainly have).

    “If you just want people to have to ask you to use your art, why not just keep it on your own webpage instead of putting it on PhyloPic?”

    Because PhyloPic is a wonderful search engine for a specific type of art. The fact that there are different licenses in no way makes the search function less useful, in much the same way Google Image Search is useful for finding out say what a baby hoatzin looks like, even though many of the images it recovers are copyrighted. Phylopic has other use cases than supplying art to cladograms in technical papers – it serves as an educational tool, the phylogeny generator can provide an easier point of entry for those with little knowledge of the fossil record, etc. I have personally used it in the classroom, and I’ve seen undergraduate students unprompted use the images in talks and papers (where the images qualify as fair use, regardless of copyright status). I support all of these use cases, and they are not hindered by an SA designation.

    “As you said, you obviously value and support PhyloPic, so why make potential users jump through that last, socially intimidating hoop? Tell me what I’m missing.”

    Aside from the scenarios I describe above, what I think you’re missing is there is both a supply and a demand side to making a project like PhyloPic work, and you are only looking at the demand side of things. I know you and Mike pooh-pooh the idea that PhyloPic images could be used to make significant money, and in large part I agree, but I think you underestimate the ingrained fear of losing copyright control of an image is for many artists. We live in a world where publishers frequently take advantage of new artists by offering licensing models that transfer complete, exclusive ownership to themselves simply because new artists often are afraid to object for fear of losing a deal. Even as a more established proprietor of images I’ve had more than one experience where after verbally agreeing on a reasonable licensing model I’ve been sent the “we own it everywhere” license (luckily I am no longer afraid to object to them). Copyright infringement on the internet feels like the rule rather than the exception.

    This is the world that artists navigate day to day, and in this environment more permissive licensing agreements are inherently scary. I dare say that I suffer from less self-doubt than some other paleoartists, if only due to age and career status. Yet despite agreeing with your general premise about not losing money and which licenses are most useful, despite strongly supporting PhyloPic in general and publication and educational uses specifically, I can tell you that I still take a deep breath every time I submit one of these images under a less restrictive license. Simply not wanting to deal with this is probably one of the main barriers (after time and interest) to artists contributing to PhyloPic. Insisting that artists simply get over their own investment of social capital when choosing licenses so that researchers or other consumers of the images don’t have to invest any of their own does little to soothe those concerns.

    If you want PhyloPic submissions to continue to grow we need to make sure we are encouraging participation, and if that requires artists to sometimes submit more restrictive licenses (especially at first) to make them comfortable then I think it’s well worth it – a PhyloPic with 50,000 images where only half of them are CC-BY or less restrictive is far more useful than a PhyloPic with 8,000 images that are 90% CC-BY/Public Domain. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work to make sure artists are better informed about licensing models – we very much should (regardless of PhyloPic participation). But back to the mocking tone of the article – that directly undercuts artists that may be struggling with whether to participate, and discourages continued participation from artists that could have otherwise been convinced to drop the SA status in at least some cases.


  6. Hi Mike,

    “Scott, I completely understand your position on this; but I think you hugely underestimate what a big deal it is for most people to contact someone out of the blue.”

    I don’t think I am – I remember how scared I was the first few times I cold-called someone (remember back in the day when we couldn’t do it through email?), and I’m not immune from avoiding sending emails to those I don’t know to this day. But saying this investment of social capital outweighs the social capital of the artists who submit the art (and to be sure, that’s the implicit claim here) isn’t really fair, and it probably acts to discourage the number of PhyloPic submissions over time (including CC-BY and public domain submissions) for reasons I described in my most recent response to Matt.

    “And of course that’s multiplied by the number of silhouettes you want to use, which could easily be ten or twenty. It’s enough friction that I’d probably just use CC By images instead, and call it done.”

    Yeah, I agree that’s an issue. It would be nice if you could send a single message to all the artists after searching for images, but I doubt that’s a trivial thing to implement.

    “Ultimately, the choice of licence is not only the adoption of a legal position, it’s also a social signal of what kinds of re-use the creator wants. Most people will take that at face value.”

    Sort of? It’s a reflection of the very course tools that artists are given by society to maintain some form of control over their artwork. Given the rampant problems of copyright infringement on the web and predatory copyright contracts used by some publishers, for many artists it takes a ton of social capital to switch to progressively less restrictive licenses, even when the monetary opportunity cost is small. There is no answer here where no one is using social capital – your stance is arguing that it needs to be shifted entirely off of the consumers of PhyloPic images and onto those who submit the images. In addition to just seeming wrong ethically (to me), it threatens to discourage participation, which would ultimately hurt all sides.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    Thanks, Scott, for the thoughtful, detailed response. You raise many points I had not considered.

    But that’s a UI/UX issue, not something specific to artists choosing a license (though seeing as Mike Keesey is a one-man programing team with no personal profit, it’s even less fair to criticize him!).

    Oh, absolutely! And to be clear, I meant no criticism of Mike. It’s a wonderful thing he’s built here, and continues to work on, for no reward other than selflessly advancing the field.

    Almost everyone else involved in OA publishing sees their career benefit, increased access to your research, etc., but the lack of permanently paid staff paleoartists combined with a frequent lack of foresight from grant writers (and/or granting bodies, or the realities of people just doing research without external funding) means that paleoartists are often asked to contribute images not merely without compensation, but are now being asked to give up their ability to monetize that image in the future (unless there is a resolution constraint baked into to the image, but authors and publishers understandably want to use the best resolution available). We need to shift the culture of funding and grant-writing to make sure researchers are considering these costs early on, not a month or two before they hope to submit for publication (and when the budget is essentially zero). [emphasis added]

    Oh, I fully agree! And I admit that I was not as woke about this as I should have been until recently. I am encouraged that this issue has been getting more open recognition and discussion in paleo circles in the last couple of years, and I hope that continues.

    I.e. “You’re giving away some of your art this way, so why not give all of it away like that” is not a compelling argument.

    Yup. And I understand that, “Oh, think of the exposure!” is not a compelling reason for any creators, including paleoartists, to be asked to part with their work for free. OTOH, I think the commercial applications of PhyloPic silhouettes are more limited than those of full skeletals, life restorations, and so on. Yes, artists should be compensated for their work. But if there’s one segment of work where giving it away is probably doing minimal harm, it’s silhouettes. More on this below.

    If you are not sure you want to contribute to this enterprise at all your article would only confirm those fears – “Gee, if I don’t select the right mystery letters my work can be mocked on a completely new axis of critique, so why bother?”

    On the contrary, it’s perfectly clear from the article what the mystery letters mean, and what people need to do to get their work seen and used, and I explicitly encourage people to do more of it!

    Friction is not always a bad thing. It’s not just researchers, textbook publishers, and the occasional T-shirt maker that wants to use these images, it’s also anti-science websites, “museums” and bumper sticker makers that have rather more pernicious uses in mind. These are not hypothetical situations, and a more restrictive license helps prevent my name from being posted in association with them (and/or recourse once use is discovered).

    You got me there – I had not considered that. I guess it would be like the artistic version of being quote-mined. “See Scott Hartman’s living Congo dinosaurs in our new Flat Earth multimedia experience!” Yuck. An evolved protective response makes perfect sense.

    Hmm. Maybe a statement like, “I am generally happy to waive the NC and SA provisions for legitimate scientific and educational causes – feel free to contact me if interested” would set a ‘nice guy’ tone for potential users while also signalling that your tolerance for BS will be low. I realize that you already have something similar in place, but a little more clarification can’t hurt.

    Also, note that there are not endless choices of license models in the world (or on PhyloPic) – for example there isn’t an option that allows people to use images for diagrams with credit but does not to allow them to modify the outline of the silhouette. If you want some vestige of control you simply have to pick a licensing model with more friction so that people will be more inclined to speak with you before they modify it.

    Another point I had not considered. Although I still think that there is a significant risk that people who don’t know you, and who haven’t seen this exchange, will see the ShareAlike provision, assume that it’s meant in earnest, and go elsewhere. I agree with you that there may be constructive uses for that friction – but it’s also easy to underestimate the magnitude of the friction when you’re looking downhill. Mike’s already articulated that more elegantly in a previous comment.

    Aside from the scenarios I describe above, what I think you’re missing is there is both a supply and a demand side to making a project like PhyloPic work, and you are only looking at the demand side of things. I know you and Mike pooh-pooh the idea that PhyloPic images could be used to make significant money, and in large part I agree, but I think you underestimate the ingrained fear of losing copyright control of an image is for many artists. […] I can tell you that I still take a deep breath every time I submit one of these images under a less restrictive license.

    All your points here are well-taken.

    Simply not wanting to deal with this is probably one of the main barriers (after time and interest) to artists contributing to PhyloPic. Insisting that artists simply get over their own investment of social capital when choosing licenses so that researchers or other consumers of the images don’t have to invest any of their own does little to soothe those concerns.

    Okay, I see how there may be a sort of looking-out-of-the-trenches across the licensing no-man’s-land here. With artists reluctant to relinquish control of their work into a world that has creationist museums and other nefarious entities, and with a long history in which paleoart has been undervalued – and potential users looking back and seeing restrictive licenses as ‘barriers to use’ rather than as ‘invitations to start a dialogue’.

    And I think a lot of work on PhyloPic is stuck in the middle, and not getting used.

    I am sympathetic to your points. I count a lot of paleoartists as friends and I know how much of a raw deal you all get about 97% of the time.

    But I think there are a couple of things that tilt the issue toward abandoning ShareAlike in this particular case. The first is that silhouettes are about as simple as paleoart can be and still qualify as paleoart. I can’t match you, or John Conway, Bob Nicholls, Brian Engh, Emily Willoughby, Julius Csotonyi, etc., when it comes to skeletal reconstructions, much less life restorations, much less paleoenvironmental scenes. But I can draw a recognizable silhouette of Camarasaurus. In the normal paleoart world, you’re competing against a set of extremely talented folks who do something that very few humans are doing at the level that you all are playing at. But on PhyloPic, you’re competing not only against other high-achievers, but also against the marginal drawing skills of the minimally talented (not exclusively, obviously, I’m talking about myself here). And if the not-rock-star artists are hungry to have their images used and cited (as I am), and if there is even a low social barrier to asking for a slightly better silhouette (and there is), then people will just go past your silhouette – no matter how much more work it represents – and use the more easily available one.

    I think it’s almost the opposite of the case for skeletals, life recons, or scenes – in those cases, the really good art is so much better than the marginal stuff that people will be willing to overcome the social barrier and ask for its use, or negotiate payment. The payoff massively outweighs the social cost. But on PhyloPic, I think the social cost of asking outweighs the basically incremental benefit of using a slightly better silhouette. And I think that’s probably true even in cases like yours where you’ve made it clear that you welcome inquiries. From what I’ve seen, most other PhyloPic creators who use ShareAlike don’t have a friendly “hit me up and let’s talk” disclaimer, so the social barrier is even higher.

    Should potential users be willing to accept that friction? Maybe. You’ve convinced me that it can serve some constructive purposes for you. I’m just not convinced that it serves any purpose for them, if more easily-used alternatives are available. And because we’re only talking about silhouettes here, the “more easily-used alternatives” include “just draw it themselves”.

  8. Andy Farke Says:

    FWIW, as author of one of the examples mentioned above, the main reason that I made custom silhouettes for the Aquilops paper was that A) there were enough silhouettes requiring CC-BY clearance that it was going to be a major hassle to contact and request permission; and B) if I see something listed as CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-SA-NC or some combo of those, I assume that it would be asking too much to use it under a flat CC-BY license. Thanks to discussions with Scott and many other folks over the years, I have my eyes open as to the downstream implications that a CC-BY license imposes on artists. If I see it listed as CC-BY-SA-NC, then I typically assume that I am stepping out of line to even inquire about moving it to CC-BY. So, 10-20 minutes of work (max) per silhouette and I’m done.

    That said, I do not see CC-BY-SA, etc., as a barrier (typically) for slides and other uses, particularly because I don’t normally distribute them in any major fashion (and they would likely fall under fair use, anyhow). My understanding, too, is that I’d normally be in the clear for using them in most museum exhibits (assuming proper credit).

  9. Andy Farke Says:

    Re: reuse by creationists, I covered this in some detail in a way-back PLOS blogs post….quote below. Although I’m specifically talking about fossil imagery there, I think many points are just as applicable to other artwork:

    “But won’t someone make a [creationist textbook / pornographic film / action figure] of our fossils that will make the museum and the science look bad?”

    As already noted, the great majority of fossils (and images of fossils) are virtually useless from the perspective of commercial reproduction. There is thus little reason to clamp down on everything in the pursuit of control over a handful of potentially annoying cases.

    Furthermore, you can already find images of specimens or casts of specimens from many major museums in just about any unsavory context. This includes specimens originally from the collections of the American Museum of Natural History on the cover of creationist treatises or casts of fossils originally from other major museums photographed in situations of exceptionally poor taste (I am not linking to those here, for reasons that are hopefully obvious). I severely doubt that the museums have the time or need to clamp down on such uses of images of “their” fossils.

    One potential problem, of course, is that image credits may be seen by some as endorsements. For instance, the license associated with a CC-BY figure from a PLoS ONE paper means that anyone can reuse it provided the original authors are credited. So, this means that a figure from Farke & Sertich 2013 could appear in a creationist textbook alongside text that claims falsehoods about the age of fossils, along with an image credit to “Andrew A. Farke and Joseph J. W. Sertich”. Although I obviously wouldn’t like this use of the image, I also think you’d have to be a real idiot to think that reproduction with credit for the source implies endorsement. Not to mention the fact that someone who wants to dig deeper will end up at the original research paper with its valid information. Is it any different from a right-wing or left-wing website quoting Shakespeare with attribution? And, do we really want to go down the road of deciding who should and shouldn’t be allowed to use fossils that are part of the world’s heritage? Such logic bites both ways. Is this really much different from denying specimen access to a research rival?


  10. Thanks Matt – I think you and I are now in pretty much the same place. I don’t disagree with your premises about the impact of SA on Phylopic silhouettes, and I’m trying to encourage the use of it per se, just explain other rationales. And I’m concerned about the potential for unintended consequences in terms of PhyloPic submissions. The one thing I wanted to comment on was this:

    “On the contrary, it’s perfectly clear from the article what the mystery letters mean, and what people need to do to get their work seen and used, and I explicitly encourage people to do more of it!”

    It’s perfectly clear if you read the middle portion with a clear head, but that assumes a reading artist hasn’t already become defensive at the mocking of their previous choice, or stopped reading altogether out of frustration (with perhaps a stronger inclination not to bother either way). I’m not implying all artists are tender little flowers that need to be coddled – in a perfect world everyone would set aside their emotional investment and extract the useful points you supplied, but then in a perfect world people wouldn’t hesitate at expending social capital to contact the artist of a piece they want to use, would they?

  11. Matt Wedel Says:

    Scott – the more time I have to think about this, the more I realize how much our perspectives differ – or at least, how much I was ignorant of when the conversation started.

    What I’m getting from you – and correct me if I’m misrepresenting your position – is that you basically view putting something up on PhyloPic with a restrictive license as a start. The image is out there where it can be seen, and if people want to use it, they should get in touch, because you’re generally cool with granting permissions for legit uses. PhyloPic is sort of acting as a gallery and low-grade social media tool (for those particular images, I realize you have others that are more freely available right out of the gate).

    The idea that a scenario like that might be an artist’s intent never crossed my mind – I had been thinking of the act of putting something up on PhyloPic as the end. I drew it, I picked the license I wanted it to carry out in the world, I posted it, now it’s done and I go do something else. Partly this may be because that’s how I like to think about my papers – Bam, done, whew, what’s next – and I’m not used to thinking of things I produce as objects of negotiation for further use. In fact, because I get compensated in advance and publish in OA outlets, I don’t want “negotiation for further use” to even be a possibility – I don’t want myself or any other scientist, let alone some $#@%&ing publisher, to have the capacity to limit people from using our work. But that’s a perspective derived from science, not art, and from the ardently pro-open end of the spectrum, too. I can see now how coming from a background in art may give a very different perspective.

    If ShareAlike is the end, then I think I’m justified in calling it “dumb” as I did in the article, for the reasons I explained: it’s so restrictive that if it can’t be waived, I see little reason to even post the images to PhyloPic.

    If ShareAlike is only the beginning, then maybe not. I guess it depends on whether users realize that you intend it as an invitation to a dialogue instead of as a ‘No Trespassing’ sign. I didn’t – the possibility did not occur to me until you explained it – and I suspect that I’m not alone.

    Maybe I should have opened by asking people who use SA why they do it. It’s not too late for all you not-Scotts out there to help mend my ignorance. If you’ve put something on PhyloPic using the ShareAlike license provision, I’d love to hear why you chose it.


  12. You’re exactly right Matt; sort of like in a personal gallery all of the images are copyrighted, and if you want to use them you contact the artist (but more specialized, obviously). Since I’ve been contacted quite a few times for use permission through PhyloPic I’d never really given it a second thought, but I can see where the differing perspective would come from – I wouldn’t want my OA publications to be treated the way I think about PhyloPic images either.

    Andy’s comment suggests this is probably a pretty widespread thought process:

    “…if I see something listed as CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-SA-NC or some combo of those, I assume that it would be asking too much to use it under a flat CC-BY license. Thanks to discussions with Scott and many other folks over the years, I have my eyes open as to the downstream implications that a CC-BY license imposes on artists. If I see it listed as CC-BY-SA-NC, then I typically assume that I am stepping out of line to even inquire about moving it to CC-BY.”

    Hmm, that makes complete sense. It’s not how I think about images on PhyloPic (where I agree that they don’t have the same monetization opportunity as other sorts of artwork), but I can sure see why you would think that, and why you’d want to err on the side of caution in approaching artists. Hmm…that’s a pickle. The amount of improvement for messaging on PhyloPic itself is of course mostly up to Mike Keesey, and we’re all in agreement that he’s already put in heroic efforts here to make this tool. I could write up a blog post on it, but that would just apply to me.

    Thanks Matt/Mike/Andy for bringing this together for me, it’s a part of the process I was missing as well. Now I’ll have to stew on it some more while drawing bones…

  13. Matt Wedel Says:

    Thank you for pushing back against my admittedly dickish initial post! It’s good to have friends who will call me to account for my words and deeds. I gotta say, this is the most constructive back-and-forth we’ve had in the comments section here in a long time, maybe ever. When I get time (not today!) I’ll add a note to the post that it should be considered just the opening statement, and that the comment thread really is required reading for anyone who cares about this stuff.

    Not that the conversation has to end here, mind. I’m still digesting it all myself. Thanks again for giving me so much to chew over.

  14. David Marjanović Says:

    Yet at the same time, I’d ask you how many times have you been turned down when asking to use a PhyloPic image? How many times for any paleoart?

    Like Andy Farke, I tend not to ask for anything if I don’t think I have a good chance of success. And that’s even though I come from close to the “ask” end of the “guess”-“ask” culture spectrum (I’ve had a horrible experience related to that, horrible for the other side, in the southern US). It had never occurred to me either that putting something on PhyloPic might be a start rather than an end.

    That’s all I can say, though; I see the problems are real, and I have no solution to offer.

  15. David Marjanović Says:

    that putting something on PhyloPic might be a start rather than an end

    Or that PhyloPic should be understood as a search engine, rather than as the repository where the pictures really are kept and can be downloaded from.

  16. tmkeesey Says:

    Hey guys! Very interesting discussion. There’s a lot here to think about as I start to put the plans together for PhyloPic 2.0. (I’m hoping to crowdfund it later this year.) I have to say at the moment I am strongly leaning toward disallowing NC and SA licenses for new submissions, and doing whatever I can to convince submitters to downgrade the license on their earlier submissions. PhyloPic was never meant to be a marketplace — it was meant to facilitate the creation of scientific diagrams. And I think the NC and SA licenses have proven to be an undue barrier. (Notably, Wikipedia and Wikimedia don’t allow them, either.)

    That said, if I were ever to open the site up to other types of illustration (e.g., skeletal reconstructions, life restorations, etc.), I would strongly consider bringing NC back, and taking steps to make it more of a marketplace. That’s a long, long way away, though.

  17. Matt Wedel Says:

    Nothing of my own to add here, just wanted to pop in and thank David and Mike for sharing their views.

    The whole discussion has reinforced for me something I had already learned in the classroom: you may create a tool with certain anticipated purposes in mind, but users tend to use tools to do whatever is useful, convenient, and possible – which is a much larger universe of possibilities.


  18. Super interesting post…and just as interesting comments. I am
    a lost fish enthusiast rather than a dinosaur enthusiast (though everybody loves dinosaurs don’t they?). I ended up making a whole pile of silhouettes myself after running up against the various licensing restrictions and was planning on publishing them CC BY.

    I feel like I am missing something though in regards to the whole credit idea, so few questions if I may;

    When you say people cited your work do you draw a distinction between credit i.e. your name on the figure, and an actual citation that will be picked up on say google scholar? As far as I can tell people will put your name on the figure or in the caption if they got it from PhyloPIc, but how does that help the pictures creator in anyway? IMO it doesn’t really provide much motivation to go and make and load more.

    If you really want credit then wouldn’t it be better to include the picture in a paper in an open access journal? Then people will cite the paper when using the silhouettes. Also slightly off tangent but if you include many silhouettes in the paper then they can just site the paper once and not have to worry about a pile of credits to add in. In my case Ill probably use about 30 silhouettes Ive made. If they were from 30 different people that would be a bit of a hassle. If I could have got them from one or two papers it would be less hassle and I would have felt like I was giving real credit by providing a citation.

    I think Mike Keesey has done a great job on probably no budget (Im going to guess its even cost him a lot) and I think PhyloPic is a really great resource. So its interesting to think about ways to motivate people to include even more figures under the most usable licences. If each picture had a doi or even better if it was possible to publish a batch of silhouettes with a cite-able DOI on there maybe that would be a good option. That might have already been discussed and discounted I guess so ignore that if so. Im having a look through PhyloPic roadmap etc to try and get a better understanding in anycase.

  19. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Lachlan, good to hear from you.

    You are right that when Matt talks about people “citing” his silhouettes, he just means and in-text credit rather than a formal citation with a reference in the bibliography.

    You ask “how does that help the pictures creator in any way?” I suppose the answer is that we like contributing to science — it gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling. But if you mean the kind of solid benefit that you can put on your CV, then probably contributing to PhyloPic is useless. The site flourishes only because people also have other kinds of benefit in mind.

    I think I’d resist your tendency to want to batch up silhouettes into a group for credit purposes. For me, the great benefit of PhyloPic is that images don’t come in groups, but you can pick and choose the ones that best suit your purpose. Acknowledging many silhouettes can be a little cumbersome, but since we here at SV-POW! publish mostly in online-only journals, we don’t go for the “not enough space” notion. All the credits can go in the acknowledgements if they feel clunky in the individual figure captions.


  20. Responding to Mike Keesey’s comments specifically – first off, I can’t wait to support a PhyloPic 2.0, financially and with submissions. And since we’ve talked PhyloPic and its goals in the past I feel like I have a reasonable idea of (and support for) them. But I still think I need to unpack this:

    “PhyloPic was never meant to be a marketplace — it was meant to facilitate the creation of scientific diagrams.”

    If PhyloPic only created its own diagrams (e.g. the fantastic “Illustrate Lineage “diagrams) and those couldn’t be modified there wouldn’t be an issue. Of course PhyloPic wouldn’t be as useful with that sort of restriction. If there was some way of constraining image uses to only being used in scientific diagrams there would likewise likely be little issue. But that’s not reality – the reality is that PhyloPic lets anyone search for images and (minus contributor-imposed licensing restrictions) those images can be used for anything, commercial, anti-science, political, or anything else you can dream up. That’s functionally a search engine/marketplace, regardless of the primary goal.

    For submitters, without restrictive licensing options (and subsequent exceptions on request) the only choices are to submit as CC BY and live with undesirable association of your name regardless of user, or to put it into public domain and get no credit at all. Both options are hostile to artists, and I would be concerned about the long-term growth of submissions if those were the only options (even if they ultimately are the best ones).

    Instead of forcing artists into those options, I’d think the best course would be to design a site to encourage more dialog between those that create art and those that use it. Artists that don’t want that much communication can always move their silhouettes towards more permissive licenses if they don’t want to bother (that is, it might create a self-selective pressure to get artists to make their licensing more permissive, without having to impose it).

    There’s no perfect solution here without more science-specific licensing models, but it should be possible to find a middle road that can protect the interests of those that create the art and also help those that want to use it.


  21. Hi, Mike
    You seem to be saying that; someone that wants credit on a CC BY photo is being altruistic and doing something for the benefit of science. However someone who wants a citation for their CC BY photo isn’t. Really? Seems like fairly arbitrary place to draw the line in the sand.

  22. Mike Taylor Says:

    Er, no, I am not saying that — at least not deliberately. I am saying that it’s not standard practice to give a formal citation of any image used in a paper (unless it’s re-used from a previously published paper in which case that paper may get cited). That is true whether the image is a photo, a silhouette or a drawing; and it’s true whether the image is all-rights-reserved, CC By or public domain.

    (We may want to change that situation, but for now that’s how it is.)


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