Virtual Fossil Museum Content Use and Link Policy



All site content is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0, unless otherwise Noted, as explained on the use policy page.

From inception in 1999 through February 2015, the Virtual Fossil Museum maintained a copyright of all content. This was well intended to protect the intellectual property of many people to selflessly donated images and provided descriptions. This policy was counterproductive to the sites mission, and was also detrimental to those who contributed images and other intellectual property. This copyright policy is now deprecated (see old Fossil Museum copyright notice here), except as otherwise specifically noted for specific content.
In January 2015 a real Internet professional who consults to large companies donated a half day to me to explain how the Internet and search engines work and have changed over time. The shift to the (CC BY-NC 4.0) license was a direct consequence of this lesson. The details of the reason for this change are outlined below, straight from my lesson notes, so I do not forget:
  • 1) The copyright policy was intended to prevent content from being commercially used except by permission. Permission was always granted to all publishers unless the intent was to support non-scientific arguments such as creation and intelligent design. It was also intended to prevent plagiarism for purposes such as selling on e-bay, or any other venue. While some say plagiarism is the highest compliment, it is strictly forbidden in science, and is otherwise theft and just plain wrong.
  • 2) Without a doubt, the intent was not realized. We found that publishers were either discouraged from contacting us for permission, or delayed when we were hard to reach, such that legitimate and intended educational use was compromised to some extent. At the same time, we have found that a copyright notice does not deter thieves and plagiarizers, even those who profess to be Christians with better than normal morals.
  • 3) As the Internet evolved over the last decade, so too did the manner in which search engine algorithms worked. Many of the changes were to combat link spam and content scraping (duplication of large amounts of content). While I do not understand this fully, some highlights are: numerous blogs, social sites, and the juggernaut Wikipedia ascribed no follow commands to external links, including content references; in this case, the intellectual property owner’s website received no “link credit”. This, in turn, led to many fine and small website falling into obscurity, while large sites (e.g., Wikipedia), including those of academic rose in visibility, increasingly dominating search engine results. Most of the small sites met extinction, and many really fine sites created and maintained by professional individuals or passionate amateurs now garner a tiny fraction of former visitors (e.g., Palaeos, Panda’s Thumb, and even Berkeley’s online museum). Adding to the “no credit” links more recently has been duplicate content penalties. For example, it is possible that a search engine could conclude that content from a site that was largely copied to Wikipedia was actually plagiarism by the site owning the content, and that entire site could be penalized by search engines – I mean, they have to decide who the rightful owner is.
  • 4) My link policy in the Virtual Fossil Museum from inception was to minimize external links, because they were often broken, and thus required constant checking that consumed enormous time. This sites benefactors acceded to this policy for the right reasons. But, I now know that generous individuals have been penalized for this very generosity (a prime example that, indeed, no good deed goes unpunished). I intend to right this wrong, though over a protracted period of time as it involved a huge amount of work in content revision. In working with benefactors, we’ve arrived at a pseudo-optimum approach to give credit where credit is due, while assuring links and especially broken links are kept to a practicable and manageable level.
  • 5) Finally, be forewarned if you are inclined to plagiarize and re-use content outside the criteria for attribution defined by CC BY-NC 4.0. We now understand that it also hurts this education resource in many ways. Going forward, we will be watching with some easy-to-use software tools given to us, and we will take selective action on a case-by-case basis. It’s really better and maybe less painful to simply do the right thing.

Also see: About The Virtual Fossil Museum Virtual Fossil Museum Copyrights and Use Terms
Virtual Fossil Museum Content Use and Link Policy