The Blue List

Elements of Taxonomic Information that are not Subject to Copyright.

One impediment to open sharing of biological content is uncertainty as to whether and how intellectual property rights apply to biodiversity information. To clarify the situation, and in collaboration with the Global Names project, Plazi organized a workshop in Tempe, Arizona in April 2013 in which we brought together providers and users of taxonomic information, data managers, and Intellectual property Rights lawyers from Europe and the USA. The perspectives of interested parties were submitted via a SNARL (Scientific Names Attributes, Rights and Licensing) wiki. The outcomes of the workshop were published by Patterson, D. J., Egloff, W., Agosti, D., Eades, D., Franz, N., Hagedorn, G., Rees, J. A. and Remsen, D. P. in 2014 (doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-7-79). A legal analysis of copyright and scientific images has been added in 2017 and those elements have been added in the list below, marked by an * (doi: 10.3897/rio.3.e12502).

Copyright is not applicable to facts or those elements that are normally included in taxonomic sources. The 'blue list' identifies those elements of scientific publications, databases, monographs, classifications, checklists etc. to which copyright does not apply, and that can be re-used without permission. Permission will be required if a data-use agreement is in place and agreed to by both parties; and all users are reminded that it is appropriate to inform the sources of any re-use and to provide appropriate credit to sources.


  • A hierarchical organization (= classification), in which, as examples, species are nested in genera, genera in families, families in orders, and so on.
  • Alphabetical, chronological, phylogenetic, palaeontological, geographical, ecological, host-based, or feature-based (e.g. life-form) ordering of taxa.
  • Scientific names of genera or other uninomial taxa, species epithets of species names, binomial combinations as species names, or names of infraspecific taxa; with or without the author of the name and the date when it was first introduced. An analysis and/or reasoning as to the nomenclatural and taxonomic status of the name is a familiar component of a treatment.
  • Information about the etymology of the name; statements as to the correct, alternate or erroneous spellings; reference or citation to the literature where the name was introduced or changed.
  • Rank, composition and/or apomorphy of taxon.
  • For species and subordinate taxa that have been placed in different genera, the author (with or without date) of the basionym of the name or the author (with or without date) of the combination or replacement name.
  • Lists of synonyms and/or chresonyms or concepts, including analyses and/or reasoning as to the status or validity of each.
  • Citations of publications that include taxonomic and nomenclatural acts, including typifications.
  • Reference to the type species of a genus or to other type taxa.
  • References to type material, including current or previous location of type material, collection name or abbreviation thereof, specimen codes, and status of type.
  • Data about materials examined.
  • References to image(s) or other media with information about the taxon.
  • Information on overall distribution and ecology, perhaps with a map.
  • Known uses, common names, and conservation status (including Red List status recommendation).
  • Description and / or circumscription of the taxon (features or traits together with the applicable values), diagnostic characters of taxon, possibly with the means (such as a key) by which the taxon can be distinguished from relatives.
  • General information including but not limited to: taxonomic history, morphology and anatomy, reproductive biology, ecology and habitat, biogeography, conservation status, systematic position and phylogenetic relationships of and within the taxon, and references to relevant literature.
  • * Photographs (or other image or series of images) by a person or persons using a recording device such as a scanner or camera, whether or not associated with light- or electron-microscopes, using X-rays, acoustics, tomography, electromagnetic resonance or other electromagnetic sources, of whole organisms, groups, colonies, life stages especially from dorsal, lateral, anterior, posterior, apical or other widely used perspectives and designed to show overall aspect of organism.
  • * Photographs (or other image or series of images) by a person or persons using a recording device such as a camera associated with light- or electron-microscopes, using X-rays, acoustics, tomography, electromagnetic resonance images or other electromagnetic sources) of parts of organisms such as but not limited to appendages, mouthparts, anatomical features, ultrastructural features, flowers, fruiting bodies, foliage, intra-organismic and inter-organismic connections, of compounds and analyses of compounds extracted from organisms that demonstrate the characteristics of an individual or taxon and/or allow comparison among individuals/taxa.
  • * Photographs (or other image or series of images) of whole organisms, groups, colonies, life stages, parts of organisms made by camera or scanner or comparable devices using automated procedures.
  • * Drawings of organisms or parts of organisms made by a person or persons to demonstrate the characteristics of an individual / taxon or to allow comparisons among taxa.
  • * Graphical / diagrammatic representation (such as, but not limited to, scatter plots with or without trend lines, histograms, or pie charts) of quantifiable features of one or more individuals or taxa for the purposes of showing the characteristics of or allowing comparison of individuals or taxa and made by a person or persons.