go to the Tree of Life home page

Copyright Issues

When we attach a page to the Tree of Life, its contents instantly become available to millions of people around the world. Due to the wide reach of our project, it is important to make sure that the use of materials on the ToL site is in accordance with international copyright law. ToL authors who want to include on their pages any text, images, or other media for which they do not hold the copyright should obtain written permission from the copyright owner. Also, all images and materials displayed on ToL pages must have a copyright notice. The purpose of this policy is (1) To make sure that authors are aware of the need to respect copyright laws and do not use copyright protected materials without permission; (2) To inform readers that the contents of ToL pages are copyright protected, so that text and images will not be copied and used by other people without permission.

On this page, we provide some information on what materials may be protected by copyright laws, and we give suggestions on what authors can do to obtain permission to use protected materials on their ToL pages.

If you are concerned about copyright protection for the materials you upload to the ToL, you can find information about relevant policies on the Tree of Life Copyright Policies and Tree of Life Use of Contributions pages.

Materials created by ToL authors

As a general rule, the author (creator) of a work (text, image, animation, video footage, web page, Java applet, etc.) owns the copyright and has the exclusive right of distribution. You don't have to register your work in order to have it protected by copyright law. At least within the U.S., all "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression" are automatically covered upon their fixation. However, the copyright privileges of the creator may be limited if the material in question was created as a 'work made for hire', or if the copyright has previously been relinquished to a publisher.

Work made for hire

Under certain circumstances, an employer can claim the copyright for materials created by an employee or contractor. Most educational and research institutions do not limit the copyright of their employees, but ToL authors may want to check whether their institution has any policies that would affect the authorship or ownership of their work.

Using previously published text on ToL pages

The ToL's novel electronic format sometimes leads to uncertainties about the rules for reusing material that has previously appeared in printed form. ToL pages are usually summaries of published research. If authors have already written a journal article or book chapter describing this work, they may be tempted to use published text verbatim on their ToL pages. However, authors should treat their contributions to the Tree of Life project like any other publication: if it is not appropriate to use, verbatim, sections from a previous work in an article that would be published on paper, then it is also not appropriate to use them on a ToL page.

Many (but not all) publishers assume copyright ownership for text that appears in books and periodicals; so authors cannot simply reprint their published work without consulting the publisher of the original article. If authors have retained the copyright for their work, or if they can get permission from the copyright owner to reuse previously published text, then it is ok with us to include this material on the ToL page with a proper reference. In this case, please also remember to send us written documentation showing that the reprinting of this text is in compliance with copyright laws.

Using previously published illustrations on ToL pages

Tree of Life authors often want to reuse illustrations that they had prepared for a printed publication. When including images on your ToL page, you should apply the same rules that you would use when preparing illustrations for a printed publication. If you would like to use an image for which you do not own the copyright, you must obtain permission to display it from the copyright owner (usually the publisher of the book/journal that the image first appeared in). With some journals, the copyright for published figures and text remains with the author, but for each particular case, you'll have to find out the copyright policy of the publisher. Usually, there is a note about these matters on the publication information page, most often found on the inside of the front cover. If in doubt, check with the journal's publication office or with the editor.

In some cases copyright ownership may be ambiguous, e.g., if a figure has been redrawn with only slight changes. In these situations, we usually rely on the author's judgement to decide whether or not permission needs to be sought from the original publisher of the image. If you think that a publisher would not be justified in claiming copyright ownership for one of your redrawn figures, you should assume copyright ownership yourself and label the image accordingly. Generally, we question authors' decisions about copyright notices only if their negligence of copyright laws is obvious, or if somebody complains about a copyright violation.

Other materials (sounds, animations, movies, etc.)

Tree of Life authors may wish to include items on their pages other than text or pictures, for example, sounds and movies. The same rules apply to these materials as described for text and pictures above.

Materials created by others

In general, ToL authors should not use other people's text on their ToL pages. Brief quotations can of course be used, with proper credit given to the original source. In exceptional cases, it may be appropriate to quote longer passages derived from works that may not otherwise be freely available to the public because their distribtion is limited or they are out of print. If the text to be printed is copyright-protected, authors must seek permission to publish the text from the copyright owner, and the original source of the material must always be clearly indicated.

Before using other people's illustrations on a ToL page, authors need to obtain permission from the copyright holder to display these pictures. We will not attach any new pages to the ToL unless authors have sent us written documentation showing that copyright ownership has been respected for all the illustrations on the page. Please note that displaying an image from another publication cannot be considered a citation, even if you give full credit to the creator or copyright holder. Under copyright law, each image is considered a complete and independent piece of work. So reusing somebody else's image would be equivalent to reprinting an entire book or article.

Images from journals and books

If you would like to use an image that has been published in a journal or a book, you should contact the publisher and ask if they own the copyright and can give permission for reproduction on the web. The publisher may then grant unqualified permission, or they may require you to also contact the author of the article or the creator of the illustration.

You can contact a publisher by regular mail (almost all publications indicate the mailing address of the publisher), or you can try to communicate with them electronically. The following list of publisher's websites can help you to get the necessary contact information. If a publisher is not listed at this site, you may try locating them with a search engine, or

It is worth mentioning here that generally, works of the United States government are in the public domain and can be used freely. This would apply to handbooks, bulletins, reports, documentations, etc. published by federal agencies. There are some exceptions to this, so you should always check to make sure you are not violating copyright laws before using an image from these publications.

In the case of older publications, finding and contacting the copyright owner can become very difficult. What if the publishing house has gone out of business, and the creator of an image has passed away? If the material you are looking at was published before 1923, you don't have to worry about copyright; at least in the United States the work is now in the public domain. Material that was published later may still be copyright protected, and you will have to do some research to find out the appropriate terms of use. Unless you are able to get a hold of the publisher or its successor, this may be a time and money consuming venture, and it may be a better idea to look for alternative illustrations.

Please feel free to if you encounter difficulties in seeking permission for the display of an illustration. We will try to help in finding copyright owners and in negotiating with them.

Images from other web sites

There is also an abundance of wonderful images of creatures available on the web pages of various professional and amateur photographers. Many of these people are happy to grant permission to Tree of Life authors who would like to use some of their images on their pages. If you see something you like out on the web, you can either contact the page author yourself, or you can to approach them and to introduce the Tree of Life project to them.

Unpublished images

If you receive permission from an artist/photographer to display an illustration that has not previously been published, the creator of the image should be cited as the copyright owner on the ToL page. Of course, this rule can be applied only if the illustration is not considered a work for hire by you or a third party.

Contribute to the ToL

ToL Contributions

Ways to Contribute

Use of Contributions

Scientific Content

Core Contributions

Articles & Notes

Tips & Guidelines


Contributors TWiki


Contributors List