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Gallup questions

It’s important to acknowledge when you have made a mistake. I made one that I definitely should have caught – as an attorney, I’m a little embarrassed about this one.

Michael Ayers of The Commonwealth Practice, Ltd. has helped me determine that the twelve Gallup questions I posted about in Are schools vibrant workplaces? are actually copyrighted by The Gallup Organization with the United States Copyright Office. Not only are the questions under copyright, apparently they’re big business for Gallup. Gallup even sued another company to prevent it from using the questions in its own work with corporations. Apparently they’re not just any questions, they’re THE questions that corporations should ask to retain talented employees. Companies pay Gallup to administer employee surveys and/or for permission to use the questions. This means that I can’t host an online survey for a school organization that wanted to ask its employees these questions without getting Gallup’s permission first.

I don’t usually find copyright issues very interesting, but this one has been illuminating for me (I guess because of my personal involvement). As an attorney, I think it’s interesting to hear that Gallup is so protective of those questions. As I told Michael in an e-mail exchange, I think the concept of being able to copyright sentences or statements is a strange one. For example, could someone lay claim to the phrases, “How are you doing?” or “What do you think are the biggest challenges facing your organization?” It’s not like this is a marketing / branding / commercial slogan (“Where’s the beef?”).

Nonetheless, even under a four-factor copyright analysis, Gallup would win if I used these questions without permission and it decided to sue me in court. It has an economic interest in this set of questions, one that’s apparently large enough to justify it going all the way to the federal Eighth Circuit Court (one level below the United States Supreme Court) to uphold its claim.

Obviously I wasn’t trying to set myself up in economic competition with Gallup. Indeed, I was actually trying to plug the concepts behind the questions and the book by Buckingham and Coffman (which is excellent, by the way, if you’re interested in company climate / employee satisfaction issues).

In the end, it’s too bad this is true. Schools aren’t going to pay Gallup for this but some of them would really benefit from the information. It may be possible that I can work something out with Gallup for the occasional request by a K-12 organization.

So read the book if this is the kind of thing that interests you. It’s superb. And please support Creative Commons.


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