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Re: How is withholding access to published specimens ethical?
In the case of specimens that have been previously described, I agree
that it is unethical to restrict circulation of photographs. I would
also argue that, in many cases, even undescribed specimens should be
the sort of thing that can and should be circulated (particularly if
there is no new taxonomy involved). Unfortunately, museums themselves
often facilitate this process, by restrictive photographic agreements
that researchers are asked to sign. I recall one that said I wasn't
allowed to post any images anywhere on the internet (although use in
academic publications was allowed). That said, I don't specifically
recall any that said I couldn't share with other researchers (but some
folks may have additional examples).
On one level, I understand where the museums are coming from - they
don't want someone else to profit from the images by making an
unauthorized coffee table book, or ad campaign for a new brand of
vodka, or whatever. Museums are cash-strapped, and I don't blame them
for wanting a piece of any commercial products resulting from their
collection. I can also somewhat understand where the researchers are
coming from - although my philosophy is that after 30 years, you sorta
lose any moral high ground on restricting photographic access.
On the other hand, if a museum is truly a scientific institution, they
should dump policies that restrict research use for photographs.
Particularly for specimens that are publicly owned (where you could
probably make a case for allowing commercial use of photos, too)!
Hmm. . .this sounds like the sort of issue that a major
paleontological society might incorporate into its ethics statement.