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I create surveys that anyone can respond to online, and I share the responses publicly with a Creative Commons license after reviewing and anonymizing any personal data.

I'm currently in the process of both rebranding this project of mine and preparing legal documents that I should've had previously, such as a privacy policy.

If a person submits an original short answer response to a question on a survey, is it copyrighted? (I assume simple multiple-choice questions would not be eligible for copyright.)

If so, can I write up a release that each person would agree to, giving me some rights to their work including allowing me to publish it under a free license? (Is there anything else I should make sure to include?)

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Yes such responses would be subject to copyright protection provided that they were substantial enough to merit it. A simple "Yes" or "No" or or even an "I liked it very much" would not have enough originality for protection, I would think. Note that "titles and short phrases" are considered not protectable by the US copyright office.

Also, the ideas in the responses are facts, and would not be protected by copyright in any case. If individual responses are not being shared, but only summaries, then probably no copyright issue was ever present.

A use of a response in the sort of way that would naturally be expected by a survey respondent would probably constitute fair use under US law, and might fit some other exception to copyright in other countries.

One could certainly include a release and license in the agreement that a survey respondent needs to agree to. whether such an agreement is needed could be debated, but I can't see that it would do any harm or have any significant cost. I would suggest making sure that it grants the survey company the right to distribute the responses without attribution, and to make and distribute derivative works, also without attribution.

If the survey company is going to retain the names of those signing such an agreement, there could be GDPR or CCPA issues, or other Data Protection law issues. It might be better not to retain any PII at all.

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  • Then would a release/license like this be valid without gathering any personal information, say with a simple "I agree" type of thing?
    – Ben Soyka
    Jul 23, 2022 at 0:58
  • Even without names, it’s likely the surveys (in whole or part) would be PII if it were possible to divine the individual from the responses.
    – Dale M
    Jul 23, 2022 at 3:06
  • not copyrighted: "I hate your new game." copyrighted: "reconsider life / a lack of haiku writing / in the game is bad."
    – Trish
    Jul 23, 2022 at 8:05

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