Is PERMISSION REQUIRED to quote anonymous survey comments?

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mikeyboy_esq

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I'm writing a nonfiction book, and I have two quick questions about the need to obtain permission to use quotes from anonymous survey comments where the survey was administered by a 3rd party (I didn't write or administer the surveys).

1) Do I need to get permission to quote comments that were written by anonymous participants as responses to survey questions where a 3rd party wrote and administered the anonymous survey questions? For example, lets say a karate school administered ANONYMOUS SURVEYS to its karate students regarding their impressions of their instructor and then the school distributed the results/comments of such survey to the karate instructor. Assume the purpose of such surveys is to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructor and provide feedback for the instructor so he/she can improve future karate classes. Can the karate instructor use quotes from the anonymous student surveys without the need to get permission from anyone?

2) If permission is required to use quotes from anonymous survey comments in the example above, from whom must the instructor obtain the permission? Keep in mind that the karate school didn't write the comments on the surveys and the actual author of each comment is completely anonymous/unknown.
 

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I'm writing a nonfiction book, and I have two quick questions about the need to obtain permission to use quotes from anonymous survey comments where the survey was administered by a 3rd party (I didn't write or administer the surveys).

1) Do I need to get permission to quote comments that were written by anonymous participants as responses to survey questions where a 3rd party wrote and administered the anonymous survey questions?

Yes.

For example, lets say a karate school administered ANONYMOUS SURVEYS to its karate students regarding their impressions of their instructor and then the school distributed the results/comments of such survey to the karate instructor. Assume the purpose of such surveys is to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructor and provide feedback for the instructor so he/she can improve future karate classes. Can the karate instructor use quotes from the anonymous student surveys without the need to get permission from anyone?

Not necessarily, no.

If the survey stated that the quotes would be used in this context, and by commenting, people were giving their permission for their quotes to be used in a commercial undertaking, then you'd be ok. If there was no such proviso in the survey, and nothing was said about using the survey comments in any way, you're on shaky ground.

2) If permission is required to use quotes from anonymous survey comments in the example above, from whom must the instructor obtain the permission? Keep in mind that the karate school didn't write the comments on the surveys and the actual author of each comment is completely anonymous/unknown.

You'd need to obtain permission from the people who made the comments. As they gave their comments anonymously, you're not going to be able to do that. So I think you might not be able to use these comments at all.

You'd also need permission from the karate school if you planned to reproduce the survey questions that they sent out to all their anonymous respondents.
 

mikeyboy_esq

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Thank you for the feedback. You raised some good points. I need to go back and see if the survey indicated how the comments would be used (my guess is the survey was silent as to how the responses would be used).

Just to clarify one point you raised, I'm not quoting or otherwise referring to the school's survey questions in any manner. I'm just interested in using the students' responses to the survey questions, which were very general in nature. For example, a student might responded to a survey question that asks what the instructor is doing that helped you in karate class and the student might have replied something like, "Mr. X is a great instructor. He kept my attention and gave me individual attention when needed." I don't intend to refer to the question at all. I merely want to use the response.

TWO FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS:

1) If permission is required from the students, how could I obtain their permission since I don't know which students made which comments? Even if I sent the entire class a request for their permission to publish the comments in my book and lets assume 75% responded (other 25% simply ignored my request), I could not prove which students made which quotes (nor could they prove this).

2) If permission is required from the school and/or instructors, can I paraphrase the survey comments without seeking permission?

Thanks again for everyone's feedback on this!
 

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1) If permission is required from the students, how could I obtain their permission since I don't know which students made which comments? Even if I sent the entire class a request for their permission to publish the comments in my book and lets assume 75% responded (other 25% simply ignored my request), I could not prove which students made which quotes (nor could they prove this).

You can't prove who said what, so you can't get their permission. I don't see any way you can use these comments, unless the survey was originally structured in a way which allowed the responses to be used in this way AND you can get permission from the survey's owners to use the responses. You'll need that, I suspect.

2) If permission is required from the school and/or instructors, can I paraphrase the survey comments without seeking permission?

Nope, because you'd be paraphrasing their work and presenting it as your own, and that would still be plagiarism.

Why do you need to use these quotes? Why can't you run your own survey, or interview people, or do something to generate material you CAN use?
 

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Who administered the survey?

How have you obtained access?
 

mikeyboy_esq

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OLD HACK,
Thanks again for the response. I don't think its plagiarism b/c my book clearly states that these are anonymous quotes from the students that I previously taught. If there is some way I could give credit for each quote to the appropriate student, I would gladly do so. But that appears impossible as far as I can tell. I was hoping there might be some kind of fair use exception or perhaps the fact that its impractical to obtain permission from the actual authors of each comment might allow an exception.

My book is about teaching tips that are based on my previous teaching experience, and I want to use these quotes to support the advice that I give in my book. Unfortunately, there is no practical way for me to recreate these quotes by interviewing the actual students who made these quotes as these surveys were taken from 500+ students over the past 15 years or so. I suppose I could start giving interviews or use my own surveys in future classes of mine, but that would take a number of years to get a large enough sample to make my points and even if I did that for the next 5 years (as an example), it wouldn't be as impressive as the past 15 years worth of survey comments anyway.

AW ADMIN,
Thanks for the reply. The anonymous surveys I'm referring to are routinely given by most public and private colleges/universities to its students near the end of each semester to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructor. After the semester is over, the school usually gives a copy of the students' survey results (including written comments) to the instructor who taught that particular class. Some of these surveys have been done on paper and some via online. These surveys are always filled out anonymously (no names or other identification is entered on the surveys). The only thing the instructor and the school knows is which class/semester the survey results came from.

Any additional feedback you folks can offer would be appreciated. I simply don't think I can publish my book without these quotes as they are my main source of evidence that my teaching tips are effective... plus several of these quotes are very entertaining. :)
 
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Some of these surveys have been done on paper and some via online. These surveys are always filled out anonymously (no names or other identification is entered on the surveys). The only thing the instructor and the school knows is which class/semester the survey results came from.

Any additional feedback you folks can offer would be appreciated. I simply don't think I can publish my book without these quotes as they are my main source of evidence that my teaching tips are effective... plus several of these quotes are very entertaining. :)

Are they all your evaluations? I'd ask the school to be sure. There are potential FERPA issues, for one thing.
 

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OLD HACK,
Thanks again for the response. I don't think its plagiarism

You might not, but the law does.

If there is some way I could give credit for each quote to the appropriate student, I would gladly do so. But that appears impossible as far as I can tell. I was hoping there might be some kind of fair use exception or perhaps the fact that its impractical to obtain permission from the actual authors of each comment might allow an exception.

If you're planning to use these quotes in a book--a commercial undertaking--you will need permission from the people you're quoting and if you can't get it, do not use them.

You can't identify who made the quotes, so you can't get permission to use them.

If you go ahead and use them anyway, then you're opening yourself up to all sorts of trouble. A trade publisher will be very reluctant to take on your book if you don't have clear permissions. You could self publish the book without permission but when your former students find it, and see that you've quoted them without their prior knowledge or permission, some of them are going to object to that. It's customary to pay for permission to use quotes in this way: they're going to be able to demand whatever payment they like and you won't be able to object, because you will have already put the book out there, with their quotes intact. It could easily bankrupt you.

My book is about teaching tips that are based on my previous teaching experience, and I want to use these quotes to support the advice that I give in my book. Unfortunately, there is no practical way for me to recreate these quotes by interviewing the actual students who made these quotes as these surveys were taken from 500+ students over the past 15 years or so. I suppose I could start giving interviews or use my own surveys in future classes of mine, but that would take a number of years to get a large enough sample to make my points and even if I did that for the next 5 years (as an example), it wouldn't be as impressive as the past 15 years worth of survey comments anyway.

You can't reasonably use those quotes.

This para makes it clear that your book requires them, and that they make up a large part of your book.

It doesn't matter how difficult it's going to be for you to produce your own surveys: you can't justify using other people's work without the appropriate permissions because it's difficult for you to do it yourself.

You will get into serious legal and financial trouble if you go ahead without the permissions you need.

AW ADMIN,
Thanks for the reply. The anonymous surveys I'm referring to are routinely given by most public and private colleges/universities to its students near the end of each semester to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructor. After the semester is over, the school usually gives a copy of the students' survey results (including written comments) to the instructor who taught that particular class. Some of these surveys have been done on paper and some via online. These surveys are always filled out anonymously (no names or other identification is entered on the surveys). The only thing the instructor and the school knows is which class/semester the survey results came from.

Any additional feedback you folks can offer would be appreciated. I simply don't think I can publish my book without these quotes as they are my main source of evidence that my teaching tips are effective... plus several of these quotes are very entertaining. :)

We've already established that you can't get permission to use these quotes as you can't match quotes to people. If you can't publish your book without using these quotes, then you can't publish your book. No matter how entertaining the quotes are.
 

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Adding to all that AW Admin and Old Hack have said -- I'm a bit shocked that an instructor would even contemplate using feedback collected in this way to flog a book. It's disrespectful to the students, and I'd expect to be explaining myself to the ethics committee while the VC assembled a misconduct committee to deal with whatever was left.
 

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Also bear in mind that surveys done by universities that are used for scientific research may require ethical committee approval and there will be rules about how data collected in these surveys is used. What you're talking about doesn't sound like scientific research - it sounds like they're just for teachers' appraisal - but it could be if the university were collecting the data as part of a study into the effectiveness of teaching methods. So that's a potential additional layer of legal issues with using the quotes. Even if that isn't the case, there's still what Old Hack said.

I'm an ex teacher - if I buy a book about teaching tips, I wouldn't be impressed if it was filled with quotes about how wonderful the author is at teaching. Seems to me that it's unnecessary padding and the author blowing his or her own trumpet rather than actually getting on with the content of the book.

Whether the tips are effective or not will be evident when I try them out. Quotes saying the author is a wonderful teacher are really neither here nor there. There's a degree to which you can read tips and think "hey, that's a great idea I'll try that" or "I cannot see that working with my students at all", but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. You don't need to back up your ideas with quotes from people who liked your classes.

I get that they provide amusement, but there are many other ways you can have amusing snippets in the book. You can include amusing anecdotes from your classes as long as no-one's identifiable (change students' names, don't be specific about location or what exact class it was, etc). You can also include hypothetical examples/conversations to illustrate your techniques. "Getting the buggers to behave" by Sue Cowley is a great one for hypothetical conversations, and it's an established technique in these kinds of books. So there's lots of scope for creativity and amusing snippets even without these quotes. You need to have confidence in the ability of your book and advice to stand up without these quotes to prop it up. I honestly can't see how such quotes are indispensable to your book.
 

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"My book is about teaching tips that are based on my previous teaching experience, and I want to use these quotes to support the advice that I give in my book."

Do you mean you want some anecdotes to illustrate and jazz up your points? If so, why not use the comments as inspiration for original (nonrecognizable) quotes that show the same points, rather than copy or paraphrase? Then note that while inspired by student comments from your fifteen years in the classroom (or whatever fits), the actual quotes included in the book are fictional, just in case?
 
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I can't speak from a commercial-use standpoint. I can, however, speak from an academic standpoint, and even there it seems like you might be skating on thin ice. Yes, the survey comments are anonymous, but that doesn't necessarily mean they can be used in the way that you wish to use them without contacting the students again and asking for permission.

That's because when they filled out the survey, they were told exactly what the survey results would be used for. As an academic researcher, I would feel uncomfortable repurposing responses in this manner. I would feel doubly uncomfortable *publishing* responses that may have been assured to be anonymous and private (teacher evaluations usually are, in my experience). Even if it were technically okay to do so, it feels ethically questionable at best.
 

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It sounds to me like the comments are derived from teaching evaluations administered by the school(s).
 

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It sounds to me like the comments are derived from teaching evaluations administered by the school(s).

True. I'd be interested in seeing what the instructions given to the students say (whether there's any indication of who reads the comments, and what they will be used for). It seems as though, at the very least, one would need to clarify use with the university, since they are the ones who administered the survey (which is what other's have said). It seems like there ought to be another way to get quotes/anecdotes without having to dip into the surveys.
 

mikeyboy_esq

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Very interesting feedback! Thanks so much.

Just to clarify a few points mentioned above...

1) Yes, these quotes are taken from teacher evaluations (anonymous surveys) administered by the school(s).
2) the survey results that the instructor receives ONLY apply to his/her particular class (in other words, all of the results are specific to the instructor receiving such results).
3) GOOD IDEA...I should check to see what the survey instructions say (I have a feeling they are silent as to how the results will be used, but I could be wrong).
4) I am NOT using the survey results for research study purposes.
5) Yes, I could publish the book without these quotes, but I would have no external evidence that my advice is effective. Without any external evidence to support my advice, I think the book is nothing more than an interesting memoir about my teaching experiences (already tons of books on that topic & its not what I intended my book to be).
6) Plagiarism and copyright infringement are 2 completely different topics. You can commit one without the other, or both or neither. As I understand it, Plagiarism means the author is taking credit for words that the author didn't create, which is NOT what I am attempting to do. I make it crystal clear in my book that I didn't write these quotes. In fact, that is the entire reason why I want to use these quotes as it shows 3rd party evaluation that my advice actually works (similar to customer testimonies of a product).
7) The quotes used in my book are very positive for the most part and do not put the authors in a bad light... I sincerely can't see them getting upset or offended that I shared their positive reviews of me and my teaching techniques with the public (unless they are simply chasing the almighty dollar). Its not like I'm making fun of the students and their comments.

Ok, lets assume the posters above are correct and that the use of anonymous survey quotes in my book without permission from the original authors (which doesn't appear physically possible to obtain) poses a risk that someone might sue me for violation of U.S. copyright law. (for the record, I'm not yet convinced this is true, but lets just assume it is true for the sake of argument)...

What are the chances that an original author of these quotes would likely be offended by the use of their quotes in my book without their permission AND what is the likelihood that said person could successfully prove in court that they wrote the anonymous quotes?
 

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At this point we're done here.

Consult an attorney.
 
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