Clarifying permission to share & use existing data

This Section sets out best practice advice on how to establish clear authority to pass on and use existing wildlife data resources.

The National Biodiversity Network Trust is aware that many organisations and individuals hold large quantities of wildlife records that would be of enormous use to others. However, many are unclear about the authority they have and feel inhibited from making the records and information products widely available for use by others,

This Section sets out best practice advice on how to establish clear authority to pass on and use existing wildlife data resources. NBN Trust is promoting this advice as an industry standard (recommended) approach for data managers to evaluate and make clear their authority over the existing and historic wildlife data they hold.


The National Biodiversity Network is being developed to facilitate increased availability and use of wildlife data and information in the UK. Many data holders lack clear authority to pass on and use the wildlife data that they hold. Subsequent concern over their liability dissuades many from making data available for others to use.
All biodiversity records and collations have associated intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is a framework of legislative rights that empower individuals to protect their creativity and innovation in a similar way to physical property. Like physical property the material in question may not be used without the permission of the author or creator (the intellectual property holder).

An author or creator can transfer or waiver the rights awarded to them to allow others to use the material that they created. Transfer of authority in this way should be undertaken formally using a licence agreement. This is necessary to ensure clarity and minimise the liability of those involved. The level of authorisation granted can vary and may be subject to specific terms and conditions identified by the author or creator.
Authority to pass on and use wildlife data

For the National Biodiversity Network to be used effectively as a means of delivering wildlife data to others, data holders need to be clear about the rights granted them by the author/s of the wildlife data in question. Authority to pass on and use wildlife data needs to be transferred up the chain of data handlers from original observer to end-user.

The vast majority of wildlife data resources that have been created in the UK to date have had no formal transfer of authority permitting the data to be passed on and used. In most cases casual submission of wildlife records has been based upon the presumption that the data would be made available to others. In such circumstances data holders usually feel they have sufficient authority to use and make wildlife data available to others. Indeed this is the premise upon which the majority of traditional data exchange has taken place in the UK to date.

The National Biodiversity Network (and in particular the NBN Gateway website) presents a new way of making wildlife data available. In considering data supply through the NBN some data holders no longer feel able to presume they have the agreement of their data suppliers.

The NBN Trust has developed a framework of model licences that can be used to formally transfer authority to pass on and use wildlife data. The model licences are intended to help data managers ensure necessary authority is granted to them with the data they obtain in the future. The full framework of licences is set out in the paper ‘NBN Framework for the Transfer of Authority to use Biodiversity Data’.

However, the model licences do not address the lack of clear authority for data holders to make existing wildlife data available for use by others. How should data holders open up access to such data?

Best Practice Approach

Existing wildlife data are important sources of information about the past and current status of wildlife in the UK. These data are required by a wide range of individuals and organisations to support sustainable decision-making, education, research and other public benefit uses.

Data holders wishing to make existing or historic wildlife data available for use by others need to take reasonable and proportionate steps to gain permission from the original author/s of the wildlife record/s or creator of a data resource (the holders of intellectual property right). The effort employed to contact an author or creator should be in proportion to the extent and nature of their creative interest in the data or information resource under consideration.
The following exclusion criteria may help you (as a data holder) evaluate your authority to pass on and use existing wildlife data or a derived information product and help appropriate measures to undertake:

  • Exclude employees and trainees, where the records they have submitted are all likely to have been made as part of their work for you.
  • Prioritise effort towards contacting individuals that have submitted a significant proportion of the records to be made available.
  • Prioritise effort towards contacting those individuals that have submitted records recently (often the ones most in demand and frequently passed on and used).
  • Prioritise effort towards contacting the individuals for whom up-to-date contact details are held.
  • Prioritise effort towards contacting those you believe may object to their records being made available for others to use
A local records centre would like to make a wildlife data resource they have produced available for others to use. However, the resource has been created using records from a variety of sources. The records were all made over the last fifty years. None of the records have been submitted with formal agreement to their further dissemination and use.
The records centre has had a clear role to collate and disseminate wildlife data to local users since its establishment ten years ago. The managers are confident that the majority of records submitted since then have been so under the premise that they will be made available to others. However, the centre has decided to take the following measures to further clarify their authority to pass on and use the wildlife data used to create the resource.The majority of records within the resource have been contributed in the last ten years by active recorders, some of whom were working for the centre when the records were made. Most of these recorders are well known and in regular contact with the record centre. The centre will undertake what it deems to be a realistic and readily achievable task, to contact those individuals who have not been employed by the centre directly to inform them of their intentions and request their permission.Older records used within the resource were either taken from published literature, museum collections or recorders. The records centre will ensure that the literary and museum sources of records incorporated within the resource are appropriately acknowledged.The centre holds few contact details for recorders of older wildlife records used within the resource, and some may have passed away. It would be difficult and time consuming for the centre to obtain contact details for all holders of intellectual property rights. As such the centre deems it unreasonable for them to contact these individuals directly. Instead the centre will place an advertisement in the local press setting out their intentions and providing details of how recorders can get in touch with the centre if they have any concerns or objections. A policy statement about the use of wildlife data and personal data submitted to the Centre become a feature in the centre’s monthly newsletter.

Further Information and Examples

Further information on measures that can be undertaken to address issues of authority to pass on and use existing wildlife data will be put on the NBN website as it becomes available. This is likely to take the form of worked examples of the methods employed by others.