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Scientific names of organisms: attribution, rights, and licensing

David J Patterson12*, Willi Egloff2, Donat Agosti2, David Eades4, Nico Franz1, Gregor Hagedorn3, Jonathan A Rees5 and David P Remsen6

Author Affiliations

1 School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA

2 Plazi, Zinggstrasse 16, 3007 Berne, Switzerland

3 Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung, 10115 Berlin, Germany

4 Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois 61820, USA

5 National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), Durham, North Carolina 27705, USA

6 Marine Biological laboratory, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2014, 7:79  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-7-79

Published: 4 February 2014



As biological disciplines extend into the ‘big data’ world, they will need a names-based infrastructure to index and interconnect distributed data. The infrastructure must have access to all names of all organisms if it is to manage all information. Those who compile lists of species hold different views as to the intellectual property rights that apply to the lists. This creates uncertainty that impedes the development of a much-needed infrastructure for sharing biological data in the digital world.


The laws in the United States of America and European Union are consistent with the position that scientific names of organisms and their compilation in checklists, classifications or taxonomic revisions are not subject to copyright. Compilations of names, such as classifications or checklists, are not creative in the sense of copyright law. Many content providers desire credit for their efforts.


A ‘blue list’ identifies elements of checklists, classifications and monographs to which intellectual property rights do not apply. To promote sharing, authors of taxonomic content, compilers, intermediaries, and aggregators should receive citable recognition for their contributions, with the greatest recognition being given to the originating authors. Mechanisms for achieving this are discussed.

Scientific names; Taxonomy; Copyright; Intellectual property rights; Name-based infrastructure; Big data