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I have used and/or adapted several questionnaires for my dissertation study. I have already asked the authors for permission to use their scales. However, I have not received a reply from an author about using his scale.

I wonder if we have to have the permission of the authors when we use their surveys (when the questionnaire items are published and publicly available), or is it a courtesy to ask for the permission. Is it still okay to use a public scale when no confirmation is received from the author who developed the scale?

Thanks for any suggestions!

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If I understand the question, you're talking about taking a published survey instrument and administering that survey to your own subjects as part of your research, possibly with changes of your own to the instrument.

I'm no lawyer, and I'm not in a discipline that uses surveys much, but I'd say you need permission, most especially if the survey form carries a copyright notice. In the United States, copyright exists the moment something like a survey is in "fixed" form, so the survey is covered by copyright, and you need permission to re-use or adapt it, so says the law.

Re-using someone's survey instrument is not like citing their results. Based on the comments to an earlier answer, re-use of survey instruments seems to be common, but I still think that, legally at least, you need permission.

  • I understand, thanks! then, how about if a questionnaire is used more than 1000 times? I also see some dissertations with no permission information about the questionnaires that they used. Also, I wonder what to do if an author does not reply to my permission request? Thank you sir! – renakre Mar 12 '16 at 23:09
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    I am utterly not qualified to give you legal advice. I can tell you my understanding of the law, but I can't give you advice. It sounds like you may be so far along that it's too late to do something else. Talk with your committee chair and explain your dilemma. – Bob Brown Mar 13 '16 at 4:46
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Cite them.

If the questionnaires are published then you do not need to ask for permission, just give them credit.

In Psychology there are some very popular questionnaires that were presented in papers that have been cited more than 5000 times. It would be a full-time job to reply to every person's email who wants to use it!

  • Thanks for the answer! How about when we have to change some items to make them better fit to our context? As long as we cite them, do you think this is fine? – renakre Mar 11 '16 at 19:10
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    @renakre That is fine/common too. You'll need to cite them and be sure to use language such as "based on Blah et. al's questionnaire" and explain the differences in more detail. One such questionnaire by Fred Paas has been modified dozens of times. So much so, he wrote a paper comparing all of the variations people have made to his questionnaire. – Austin Henley Mar 11 '16 at 19:12
  • Thanks! I understand and it totally makes sense. I hope my committee members will not attack me for this during my defense :) (since one author has not replied yet). – renakre Mar 11 '16 at 19:18

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