Suing students who shared exams online to identify them

An assistant professor of business administration at Chapman University is suing students for posting parts of his midterm and final exams on the Course Hero website. But he still doesn’t know who these students are. This is what the lawsuit is about: By suing John Does for copyright infringement, professor David Berkovitz seeks to legally compel Course Hero – who is not a defendant in this case – to release the students’ identities.

“We had no choice,” said Marc Hankin, attorney for Berkovitz. “The only way to get a subpoena is to open a case.”

Prior to the lawsuit, Berkovitz contacted Chapman about his exam questions on Course Hero and reached out to the site itself, Hankin said. But neither party could tell him who uploaded the exams.

While Chapman “has a very strict code of honor and doesn’t support cheating, they obviously don’t know who it is and there was nothing they could do about it,” Hankin continued. Course Hero, meanwhile, reportedly told Berkovitz, “We’ll give you the information if you send us a subpoena.”

Professors automatically own the copyright to their original teaching materials, and Course Hero honors takedown requests alleging copyright infringement. (It also says it encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning by asking for help and helping others not to cheat.)

Course Hero said Wednesday that it received a takedown request from Berkowitz in February and complied.

“Berkovitz was also assisted by a member of our educator partnership team prior to the removal request, where they helped him understand the Digital Millennium Copyright Act process and spoke about further assisting him in preventing future uploads,” said a Speaker. “We are always at the side of the educators in this process.”

Hankin said that Berkovitz submitted a takedown request to Course Hero last month, but that many of Berkovitz’s test questions were still on Course Hero earlier this week, “for the whole world to see.” (Hankin said he hasn’t sent a takedown notice to preserve evidence since the lawsuit was filed earlier this month.)

Course Hero has not yet been subpoenaed but said it always obeys the law and will do so in this case.

Students sign up for Course Hero with a name and email address, and the subpoena will allow the site to associate the documents in question with a unique IP address, the company says.

Surprising discovery and questions of guilt

In January of this year, Berkovitz discovered that portions of the midterm and final exams for his spring 2021 bachelor’s degree in business law were shared on Course Hero, allowing students and faculty members to share and search information about specific courses and topics. This includes class notes, lectures, and assignments, but exam questions have also been known to make their way onto the site, giving Course Hero a reputation for enabling cheating. Concerns about Course Hero and other student-run sites grew during COVID-19, as online learning and exam-taking surged — and heightened stress and isolation arguably made cheating more tempting. (Course Hero says much of that reputation is undeserved, as the site has done own code of ethics but can’t monitor everything users upload.)

In February, Berkovitz filed expedited copyright requests with the US Copyright Office for both documents and received copyright registration the next day. This is not required to prove ownership of the materials, but is required to sue for copyright infringement.

Berkovitz’s lawsuit alleges violations of his “exclusive right to reproduce, make copies, distribute or create derivative works by posting the midterm and final exams on the Course Hero website without Berkovitz’s permission.”

The defendants “knew or should have known that their actions constituted copyright infringement,” the lawsuit continues.

Hankin said the exams in question contained explicit instructions not to seek outside help or exchange questions or answers. These were closed book exams. “Do not use external sources. You are not allowed to use the internet. Don’t ask anyone for help.’ And it literally says, ‘Do not copy any of the exam questions or your exam answers.’ It’s at the top.” However, “one or more students violated this and posted the course exam to ask for help during the exam.”

Not only should these students be “disciplined by the university, whatever the university decides,” he said, “it’s unfair to the other students on the curve who got their grades dropped through no fault of their own.”

While Berkovitz grades according to a curve — a controversial practice many professors have moved away from — Chapman’s Argyros School of Business and Economics does not require him to do so.

Berkovitz is seeking a permanent injunction barring the defendants from directly or indirectly infringing on the copyrights for the exams and an order to confiscate all equipment containing copies of the copyrighted material in the defendants’ possession and distribution channels are located.

The lawsuit also states that Berkovitz is seeking damages. Hankin said his client was “only” interested in finding out who cheated.

Chapman’s Code of Honor says that the university is “a community of scholars that emphasizes the mutual responsibility of all members to seek knowledge honestly and in good faith. Students are responsible for their own work and academic dishonesty of any kind will be sanctioned by the lecturer/administrator and referred to the university’s Academic Integrity Committee, which can impose additional sanctions up to and including expulsion.

Cerise Valenzuela Metzger, a spokeswoman for the university, said: “While we would not comment on specific situations involving students, unauthorized posting of exam questions would likely constitute a violation of our academic integrity policy. In accordance with our policy, we would encourage the professor to report the incident and the students involved to the Academic Integrity Committee for a decision.”

Karen Costa, an independent faculty trainer who focuses on online pedagogy and trauma awareness and previously criticized Course Hero — which is worth $3.6 billion — for not doing enough to protect student privacy to protect said that this case raises a number of additional concerns.

“Course Hero presents itself to the students as a hero, in the truest sense of the word, doesn’t it?” said Costa. “Yes, a lot of students know it’s scams, but at the same time, there’s this very professional website, full of rhetoric that came out of a multi-million dollar marketing budget, saying all of this to the students – and the faculty It’s a community that supports students and learning.”

Beyond Course Hero, Costa questioned why Berkovitz was even grading on a curve and why he took the extraordinary step of suing students — especially when a platform like Course Hero was so central to their transgression.

“They have a multi-billion dollar company whose business model is to give students access to unquoted ‘study materials’ when they publish their own writing, assignments and content from their courses,” she said. “It’s an exploitative, predatory model that preys on the students’ worst angels. Does the responsibility lie with a few desperate students or with the multi-billion dollar company? I know where it fits in my book.”

Hankin said Course Hero is certainly not blameless or unproblematic, but when “someone cheats and artificially puts themselves at the top of the curve, they actually harm others.” He added, “You’re not just cheating yourself — you’re actually hurting your classmates.” . And the professor takes care of that.”

Sean Michael Morris, a digital pedagogy expert who taught English and later pedagogy at the University of Colorado at Denver and is Course Hero’s new vice president for academics, said in an interview that Course is about empowering students to engage in of their own education, highlighting Hero’s “DNA” and that he didn’t like the idea of ​​blaming certain entities for why or how students cheat.

“As someone who really believes in students and wants to support students, I think we actually need to look at something much more systematic,” he said. “That means looking at the grades, especially grading on a curve – I think that has real problems. This puts unnecessary pressure on students to succeed beyond the point of normal success. They have to get more than one A – they have to get the best A.”

He continued, “Oh, the students did it. Oh, Course Hero did it. Oh, the teacher did it.’ What we need to look at instead is why students and teachers have this kind of adversarial relationship based on the fact that they are constantly being graded and evaluated in some way and in a way that puts more pressure on them than there should be be.”

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