Copyright Law and Plant Descriptions

Discussion in 'Plants: Nomenclature and Taxonomy' started by PlantExplorer, Dec 7, 2002.

  1. PlantExplorer

    PlantExplorer Active Member 10 Years

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    Vancouver, Canada
    I am putting together a small database of plants, and I would like to include not only the author’s name of each particular species, Genus, Family, etc., but would like to potentially include each author’s taxonomic description. I need to know what the copyright protocol is. Obviously, anything published in excess of 100 years is totally exempt, so L., Hook., etc are fine, but what of the more recent works? Since they are intended to be the definitive descriptions of the plant being profiled, do they (the individual descriptions, not the overall work of the author) enter into the public domain for the benefit of all?
  2. qcronk

    qcronk Active Member 10 Years

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    copyright on taxonomic descriptions

    This is a most interesting question, so I asked an authority, Dr Robert Mill of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to comment. This is his reply:

    "I would say that the individual taxonomic descriptions do NOT enter
    the public domain - the copyright will be held by the publisher of
    the journal, book etc. where they appeared. For example, all my
    descriptions of new Bhutanese Pedicularis species published in
    Edinburgh Journal of Botany in 2001 are, like all other papers in it,
    copyright Cambridge University Press. Copyright SUBsists in the
    work (i.e. the book, paper, etc.), it does not EXist outside the work.

    Also, copyright law varies from country to country. Therefore it may
    not be true to say (as he does in his query), "anything over 100
    years is exempt". Over here, copyright lasts until 70 years after the
    death of the author (it used to be 50 years after but was lengthened
    in the 1988 Act as amended in 1996). Thus, if I were to die in 2030,
    anything I have published would remain in copyright until 2100.
    That includes my Flora of Helensburgh published in 1967 and my
    first new species descriptions, published in 1977, whose copyright
    would (according to the enquirer) run out in 2067 and 2077
    respectively. Also, don't forget that copyright is sometimes
    renewed by the estate of the deceased - frequently if it is, e.g., the
    works of a famous novelist but unlikely to happen in the case of
    taxonomic descriptions!

    There is a useful summary of UK copyright law starting at Searching
    with Google should reveal websites giving the law in other
    countries, e.g. I found a site detailing Japanese copyright law at . There, copyright lasts until
    only 50 years after death, so if I were Japanese and died in 2030
    my works would be in copyright only till 2080, not 2100 as in the

    Please pass these comments on to the enquirer. I would advise
    against putting the whole description on the web but would
    recommend giving a full citation as to where to find it - with journal
    titles etc. unabbreviated so that they are comprehensible to
    laymen. I wish him luck with his project."
  3. PlantExplorer

    PlantExplorer Active Member 10 Years

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    Vancouver, Canada

    The best suggestion, both from a programming and from a web visitor standpoint, is the use of unabbreviated citations – both my database and I will be much happier with the lighter workload, and the information provided will be just as useful and informative for visitors.

    Thank you for the excellent information! I greatly appreciate it – it is interesting that my website has been assisting the RBGE with web promotions and press releases for almost a year now, while their own site was under development, and now through a very different avenue, I get much needed help from Dr Robert Mill and you. What a small world it is now. Thank you Dr. Cronk.

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