Use of Collections Data and Images

How we are licensing our collections data and images

Per these documented Conditions and Suggested Norms for Use of Collections Data, the Field Museum of Natural History ("the Field Museum”) is releasing its collections data under a public domain waiver (CC0) and making multimedia served publicly from its authorized Collections Management System available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC) license.

A CC0 waiver marks our intent to place our data in the public domain and decline to enforce any intellectual property rights we may have in it. The CC-BY-NC license allows the distribution, publication, and remixing of these images for any non-commercial purpose, as long as you credit The Field Museum and follow the other requirements of this Creative Commons license.  

Why we think this is a good idea

We've thought long and hard about data sharing, ethics, and copyright and read a whole bundle of documents where people we respect highly discuss the ifs, whys, and wherefores of how best to share data. As a result, the Field Museum has decided to follow the lead of GBIF, Europeana Foundation, Canadensys, VertNet, and Open Data Commons together with the many institutions that are involved in those efforts and lots of other clever people. These organizations believe that adopting a CC0 waiver for collections data and a CC-BY-NC license for images strikes an appropriate balance between sharing collections and data with the world and protecting institutions’ collections and intellectual property rights. We agree.

The text below describes the Field Museum’s norms and considerations for data publication and use. This is not a legal document and norms are not a contract or license, but, by abiding by the norms below, you are joining a global effort to increase the discoverability of our data, unlock their potential, and help to make the biodiversity data world a little bit easier, and whole lot more fair, to work in.

We hope that sharing our data in this way (

  • encourages scientific enquiry and debate
  • promotes innovation
  • leads to new and exciting collaborations
  • maximizes transparency and accountability
  • enables scrutiny of research
  • encourages the improvement and validation of research methods
  • reduces duplication of data
  • increases the impact and visibility of the work we do
  • provides credit to the researcher as a research output in its own right
  • provides great resources for education

What this does not cover

This waiver and license and associated norms apply only to Field Museum collections data and images and media served externally through our authorized Collections Management System. It does not apply to the Field Museum website as a whole, other content appearing on or linked through the Field Museum website, the content appearing in Field Museum social media accounts, exhibitions, or publications. Please refer to the Field Museum’s general copyright statement for the terms of use that apply to that content, but be aware that certain content may be available under different terms, including under Creative Common licenses (notice of these differing terms will accompany such content).

Additionally, this waiver and license and associated norms do not (necessarily) apply to any third party content used by the Field Museum--third parties may license their content under similar terms, or they may not. The Field Museum makes every effort to acknowledge the source of material that is not its own. If you find that we have misattributed something, please let us know.  

Norms and considerations

  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Be responsible
  • Share knowledge
  • Respect the data license or waiver
  • Join in
  • Use our preferred citations
  • Ask for more

Give credit where credit is due

We request that you cite the data you are using. Our staff, volunteers, and collaborators have invested a lot of time, money, and effort into collecting, digitizing, maintaining, and publishing the biodiversity information you are using, and they deserve credit for their work. You can find our preferred citation formats at the end of this document.

Be responsible

With great power comes great responsibility. These data are published to allow anyone to better study and understand the world around us, so please do not use the data in any way that is unlawful, harmful, unethical, or misleading. Understand that the data are subject to change, errors, and sampling biases. Protect the reputation of the data publisher and clearly indicate any changes you may have made to the data.

Share knowledge

Let us know if you have used the data. It helps us to showcase your and our efforts and it helps us all to reach a wider audience.

Inform the data publisher(s) if you have comments about the data, notice errors, or want more information. Their contact details are included in the dataset metadata and on our website.

Respect the data license or waiver

Understand and respect the data license or waiver under which the data and images are published. It is indicated in the with every record and in the dataset metadata. To help you make greater use of the data, we have dedicated our data to the public domain (CC0) and our images are more freely available as CC-BY-NC. Do not remove the public domain mark or provide misleading information about the copyright status.

Data publication and conditions

We currently only publish data about collections that are held by the Field Museum. If you wish to publish your data in a similar way under the same code of openness, then we encourage you to join one of the growing community of data aggregators out there that are doing the same.

Preferred citations

We currently only publish data about collections that are held by the Field Museum. If you wish to publish your data in a similar way under the same code of openness, then we encourage you to join one of the growing community of data aggregators out there that are doing the same.

How To Use Our Preferred Citations

Ask for more

In some cases, data may not be currently available to the public, but it may be available on request to the Museum. Feel free to ask for more by contacting the data providers.

The Field Museum reserves the right to (and does) restrict certain data due to resource limitations, legal obligations, security, ethical, privacy, and preservation concerns.

Some records or fields may be restricted for any of the following reasons:

  • cultural sensitivity;
  • restrictions agreed to by the Field Museum as part of accepting a collection (accession agreements), documented restrictions due to intellectual property rights, collecting permits, distribution agreements, or similar contractual restrictions; or
  • ongoing research (research by Field Museum staff and associated scientists, may limit availability of some data for a period not to exceed five years, which may be extended in some cases after a careful internal review).
  • Some provenance data may be restricted for the following reasons:
  • personal privacy of staff, collectors, donors, or their families or
  • personal safety and security of staff, collectors, donors, or their families.
  • Some collection locality data may restricted for the following types of collections:
  • collections of high monetary value
  • commercially traded collections (especially those biological species regulated under CITES or other international conventions to which the U.S. is a party, anthropological, rock or mineral, and paleontological specimens);
  • endangered or threatened species;
  • cultural objects or information from archaeological sites and other culturally sensitive properties; or
  • specimens or objects collected on private property.

Access to restricted data may be allowed upon request under certain circumstances, subject to certain restrictions; all requests are considered on a case-by-case basis. 

What’s in our datasets

The Field Museum’s publicly available datasets represent a work in progress. Records are continually added, updated, and modified, and so it is important to understand some key points:

Accuracy and completeness

The data in the Field Museum’s publicly available datasets is as accurate as we can reasonably make it, and we are working hard to continually add to and update these datasets. If you believe that data you are examining are not correct, let us know what and why.

Scientific collections are usually strong in particular geographic areas, taxonomic groups, or kinds of objects that have been of interest to the staff who use them. For that reason (and others) they are incomplete. There are many places where collecting has been done repeatedly, many areas where no collecting has ever been done for a particular group, and some areas where no collecting has ever been done. For more information about the history of our collections, see the webpages of the individual collections divisions.

Negative information and bias

Our data constitute positive information only; that is, it is a record of something found in a particular place at a particular time. The absence of a record of a particular species or object does not necessarily mean that it was not present at that particular place and time—it means that it was not collected, that it is not our collections, or that the data have not been captured electronically. 

It is a common, but frequently incorrect, interpretation of collections data that gaps in distribution means absence of the organism or object of interest. That interpretation is often incorrect even if you know that the organism has been looked for there because many animals are seasonal in their distribution and others may show up in a place one year and not again for many years.  Understanding the positive-only nature of the data, and how they are pieces of a larger puzzle of environmental and historical understanding, is critical to their proper interpretation and appropriate use.

Spatial data

Our geospatial data is georeferenced to the best of our abilities. Users of these data should be aware that georeferenced localities may not be the actual point locality of the specimen and may in fact represent a polygon centroid. This may introduce errors for certain types of spatial analysis and therefore care should always be given when using spatial data for analysis.


The norms and considerations are based on those of the Canadensys, VertNet and National Museum of Natural History. Creative Commons (CC0; CC-BY-NC).

These norms are subject to revision without notice; major revisions will be announced via the Field Museum’s website, data portal, or social media channels.