Chapman professor sues students after exams are posted online

A view of Chapman University in Orange, where a professor is suing after finding his exams online.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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An Orange County professor is suing his students for allegedly uploading copyrighted exam materials to a website used for studying and test preparation.

David Berkovitz, who teaches at Chapman University’s George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics in Orange, in January found portions of midterm and final exams from his spring 2021 business class on Course Hero, a site for students to access course-specific study resources, court documents say.

According to the complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, the students allegedly violated copyright and infringed on Berkovitz’s right to “reproduce, make copies, distribute or create derivative works” by posting the materials online without his permission.

The professor submitted and was granted formal copyright applications for the exams from the U.S. Copyright Office last month.

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Is not yet known which student or students uploaded the exams, but the materials were accessible only to those enrolled in the spring semester class, court documents say.

Marc Hankin, an attorney for Berkovitz, said the exams were administered remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and contained clear notices about not copying questions or answers.

Uploading them was also unfair to other students, he said — particularly because the course is graded on a curve.

“It’s partly punishing the wrongdoers, but more importantly, it’s protecting the other students who are being hurt by this behavior,” Hankin said of the suit. “They did nothing wrong. They studied hard, they didn’t cheat, and yet their grade is artificially lower than it should have been because of the mandatory curve.”

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Chapman University spokeswoman Cerise Valenzuela Metzger on Thursday declined to comment on “specific situations with students,” but said unauthorized posting of exam questions would “likely constitute a violation of our academic integrity policy.”

That policy, available online, says academic dishonesty is subject to sanction and referral to the school’s Academic Integrity Committee, which may impose additional sanctions, including expulsion.

Hankin said Berkovitz first tried to handle the incident internally and through Course Hero but was “stymied at every turn.” He plans to subpoena the company and amend the complaint — which currently lists five John and Jane “Does” as the defendants — with their true names accordingly.

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In a statement Thursday, a Course Hero spokesperson said the site is a user-generated content platform, meaning that they “host content but do not review it.” However, it uses automated copyright filters to scan uploaded content, and users must agree to terms of use that prohibit the uploading of content they don’t have the rights to, the company said.

“Course Hero does not tolerate copyright infringement of any kind and employs a range of preventative measures, investigation and enforcement policies,” it said, adding that the infringing content in Berkovitz’s case was “swiftly handled” by the company’s compliance team and removed after receiving a takedown notice.

The suit seeks a jury trial for the defendants who uploaded the materials, a permanent injunction preventing them from infringing the copyrights and an order of impoundment of all devices containing copies of the materials, according to court documents.

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Berkovitz is also requesting an award of actual and statutory damages; an award of attorneys’ fees and other costs related to the suit; and “any and all additional relief that the Court may deem just and proper.”

Still, Hankin said, it was less about punishment and more about protecting others in the course.

“Maybe we’ll send a message to other students,” he said. “Don’t cheat. It’s just not worth it.”

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