Can copyright lawsuits ever be used for purposes other than protecting your own intellectual property? A recent case in Southern California shows a novel copyright infringement suit.David Berkovitz, a professor at Chapman University, taught his Business 215 class remotely throughout the pandemic. In January 2022, he discovered Course Hero, a website in which students share documents to help each other study and excel. Berkovitz stumbled across a surprising document in this labyrinth of forums: His own exam questions!
While students are permitted to share some documents from classes, Berkovitz analyzed when the exam questions were posted and surmised that students may have been actively asking for answers during their remote exams in 2021.
How did this lead to a copyright infringement lawsuit, then?
Reactions: Course Hero and Berkovitz
Plagiarism, copyright infringement, and cheating are prohibited on this platform. So when Professor Berkovitz asked for the exam questions to be taken down, Course Hero did so quickly.
However, this was not enough for Berkovitz. He understood the larger picture. Students are graded on a curve. If some students achieve higher grades through cheating, they are pushing down the grades of students who did not cheat.
More than just being unfair, Berkovitz saw how this could jeopardize the scholarships, financial aid, and even college continuation for students at the low end of the curve. He decided to investigate who may have cheated, possibly to take their false grades out of the picture.
When the professor asked for the identity of the students who posted the questions – presumably, the cheaters – Course Hero responded that they could not disclose that private information, without a subpoena. You can guess what happened next.
A Quick Copyright
Professor Berkovitz enlisted the help of another lawyer to pinpoint the fastest method to a subpoena. The two lawyers worked together to expedite the registration of the copyright for Berkovitz’s exam materials.
Then, they sued the anonymous group of students, deemed “Does” to get the subpoena. The subpoena has been served on Course Hero and Professor Berkovitz is waiting for the student names to be provided by Course Hero.
Professor Berkovitz does not plan to pursue the lawsuit to its end. He is simply using it as a means to his end. Then he will turn the student names over to the university for further investigation and a decision on how to proceed. He hopes that doing so will protect students who took remote exams with integrity.
In a world of intellectual property filled with petty legal squabbles, it is refreshing to see someone employ the law in an inventive and compassionate way.