Wall-mounted index catalogue

Do I need written permission to evaluate EFL textbooks?

It appears that academia.edu will be closing down their Q&A section, and although I am told that the content will still be available for download, I thought it may be best to salvage some of the questions and answers I have given in that site, just in case they may be of use to anyone.

Here’s a question from a student who was interested in doing some kind of content analysis of ELT textbooks, but was uncertain about the legal implications of such research:

Could someone give me an answer to a question of legal nature about my research for a dissertation (masters course)? I am going to review EFL textbooks (upper intermediate / advanced level) in the light of the global education & critical thinking. Do I need to ask written permission from the publishers? I have tried to read what the law is but I am not sure I feel confident in interpreting the law. Is my research within “fair dealing”? I am going to do a quantitative analysis, to check the visibility of the global issues & the amount of exercises developing critical thinking skills and then a qualitative analysis within the framework of global education. What do you advise me to do? Thanks!

I believe that the applicable law should be the law of the land where your thesis is produced. In your analysis, you can use whatever data you want without legal problems: you have the right to use a book you own in any way that you see fit, which includes mining it for data.

However, you need to be careful in the way you report your analysis. You would do well to avoid reproducing material such as images or text from the coursebooks in question in your dissertation, because that would likely violate copyright law. Small snippets, which are essential for developing your argument, would likely fall under the ‘fair use’ so they are probably OK under UK law at least.

In ascertaining whether something is likely ‘fair use’ you need to consider (a) how extensive the copying is, (b) how integral it is to the argument you are making, and (c) what effect it may have on the value of the original (it may be a good idea to use low resolution pictures, or stamp ‘Sample’ on them, so that nobody can accuse you of making it available for unauthorised copying).

Image Credit: Hindrik Sijens @ Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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