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The answers to this popular question were somewhat controversial, but many including @dan-romik whose answer was highly upvoted mentioned that recording a video is a violation of personal privacy and in the US, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

I neither can speak for the OP of that question nor approve his/approach, but the strong stance regarding personal privacy puzzled me. The mentioned question says

We have a youtube channel in which students regularly explain their achievements.

Point 1: Can the reports of a PhD student recorded in video format?

  • A PhD student normally delivers reports of progress to the supervisor. This report can be in verbal or written form.
  • I do not see any problem (including privacy) if the supervisor asks the PhD student to deliver his/her report in video format.
  • Alternatively, the supervisor may ask the PhD student to deliver a public lecture in the department. Since it is a public lecture, anyone can record the presentation unless otherwise strictly stated by the organiser.
  • Similarly, the progress could be presented at a conference. Many conferences record the presentations.

Point 2: Can a supervisor share the presentations of a PhD student?

  • A research report is not intended for the supervisor's eyes only. An educator cannot share the exam sheet of a student (according to FERP), but the story is completely different for a research report. The supervisor can/will directly use that report to report to the funding agency who funded the PhD project in the first place.

  • The progress report is not only the progress of PhD student but the work done in the supervisor's group. Therefore, it is not odd for the supervisor to post the report publicly (e.g., the university website, researchgate, etc).

Conclusion: Is video different from writing?

For centuries, academics presented their works in both oral and writing formats. Thanks to Johannes Gutenberg, writings are well recorded for centuries. However, video recording of the presentations is new, a few decades of recording, and one decade of sharing.

As a straightforward question, can someone refuse to appear in any recording because of personal privacy? This can apply to the PhD defence meeting too, as some universities record its video to be stored along with the written dissertation.

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    Since it is a public lecture, anyone can record the presentation unless otherwise strictly stated by the organiser: Everywhere I've ever been has strictly forbidden the recording of any lecture etc. This is the default. – Marianne013 Jun 22 '18 at 11:42
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    @Marianne013 Who can stop the audience to turn the voice recorder (of their mobile phones) in their pockets? Many conferences have the live stream or share the videos after the conference (take a look at Youtube). – Googlebot Jun 22 '18 at 12:54
  • @Marianne013 By the way, even in theatre and music concerts, which are non-free copyrighted materials, nobody can stop the audience from recording and sharing. An academic pays the registration fee to come and share its content. – Googlebot Jun 22 '18 at 13:23
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    You can do all kinds of morally, ethically or legally wrong things without people noticing. Doesn´t make it less wrong. – asquared Jun 22 '18 at 13:35
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    @Googlebot "An academic pays the registration fee to come and share its content." No, I don't believe that last part is true. Do you have anything to back this up? Every conference I have been to where talks were recorded, authors presenting were asked for a consent form. And regardless of whether you paid the fee to attend, certainly you are not allowed to freely share the proceedings of the conference (unless, say, the conference itself makes them freely available). – Clement C. Jun 22 '18 at 16:17
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EDIT: This post has been restructured into a clear answer, rather than the discussion format it was originally in. Thank you Stella Biderman.


Recording a video of a scientific presentation by itself need not be an invasion of privacy. The invasion comes if and when the video is shared, depending on the nature of sharing medium, the control over shared content and agency to withdraw/clarify one's statement.

A departmental talk may be recorded for internal review. A conference talk may be officially recorded (though I have never seen this personally). As long as these are not shared, and are stored for internal use (quality control, archive, proof of the event), privacy is not invaded. Even so, many individuals may find this distasteful, uncomfortable and even repulsive. This should be respected to the extent possible. Personal choice is crucial. A conference is certainly a (restricted) public presentation, but presenters go there voluntarily. If someone wants to go on YouTube, that's fine. But nobody is allowed to make them go there. The concern of agency is also important- does the presenter have the right to retract or clarify their stand? Once on social media, it is near-impossible to issue 'errata' or pull something down once people start sharing it.

Yes, video is different from writing.

The medium is of crucial importance, because it determines how the content is disseminated. A journal paper is restricted to subscribers (let's leave illegal downloads out of all discussions). An open access paper is open to all, but typically accessed by those with a prior interest. Both have restrictions on how it can be further shared and used. This is not the case with videos on social media. Those are seen by a mixed population with different levels of interest. They can be shared very easily and without accountability. They lend themselves to defamatory and potentially abusive comments and unwanted, non-constructive scrutiny.

The nature of delivery determines the audience. YouTube is not an academic medium. Neither is a regular newspaper. Both are good for certain purposes, both may be used for outreach and even educational purposes, but are sub-optimal for sharing research. The packaging of academic content to make it engaging to the general public is a serious and involved matter, which should be handled by dedicated workers with necessary expertise. A typical PhD student is not expected to have this expertise. (After all, how many academics after Feynman do you know who did this on a large scale?)

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    Although I think that you are right, I think this answer would be greatly improved by leveraging your discussion to answer the question being asked. – Stella Biderman Jun 22 '18 at 20:01
  • With all due respect, your reasoning for the medium or possibility for errata is nonsense. Many journals are now open access and it has the requirement of many funding agencies. Limiting the readability of an article is neither privilege nor right for the authors. Errata is a conditional privilege. If your changes are significant, you have to withdraw your article, as you cannot modify a large portion. In any case, like videos, there is no guarantee that readers will notice the errata. Moreover, academics do not always have this privilege (in various reports and materials). – Googlebot Jun 25 '18 at 15:23
  • @Googlebot- You mention a series of disconnected objections that are more the exception than the rule. Let me tackle them one at a time. I specifically mentioned open access journals as an exception, possibly you didn't read the answer fully? The authors are not limiting readability (I think you mean access, readability is a characteristic of writing style), the medium is, which is my central point. Yes, errata are conditional - so what? Yes, authors may need to withdraw if changes are significant. Both of these are not available on social media due to it's very nature. – user153812 Jun 25 '18 at 15:49
  • @Googlebot - The journal does it's best to make readers notice the errata by linking it for future downloads or displaying it in a sidebar. No guarantee that it will be read, that's true. But it's still a measure that's missing on a video-sharing platform. If in some reports academics do not have this privilege (I'm yet to come across one such), then those are exceptions again. – user153812 Jun 25 '18 at 16:04

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