Copyright infringement lawsuits usually involve intellectual property that can be duplicated and sold by the owner, such as a novel or TV script, or formulae for industrial processes that can likewise be converted into large sums of money. Rarely do copyright infringement lawsuits involve academic materials such as mid-term tests and final exams. However, a business professor may have broken the mold by his recent federal court lawsuit accusing five unnamed defendants of infringing on his ownership of copyrighted material described as “Midterm Exam and Final Exam.”
The basic allegations
The plaintiff teaches a business court at Chapman University, a private school in Orange County. The defendants are alleged to have posted the professor’s midterm exam and final exam in his business course on an online web site known as Course Hero, a site that provides study aids to students. The complaint also alleges that the defendants “knew or should have known that their actions constituted Copyright Infringement.” The complaint alleges that the defendants infringed on the professor’s “exclusive right to reproduce, make copies, distribute, or create derivative works” by publishing the exams online. The exams were available online because the professor chose to use the internet to administer the tests due of the coronavirus.
The plaintiff’s attorney plans to subpoena employees of Course Hero to learn the identity of the defendants.
For its party, Course Hero says that it does not tolerate copyright infringement of any kind and that it employs several strategies and preventive measures to protect against such violations.
Estimating or proving damages caused by the alleged infringement appears to be very difficult. The texts of college examinations do not appear to have a broad market appeal, and they would not be likely to generate significant revenue for the professor who created them. The professor may be attempting to use the lawsuit as a means for identifying the students who in effect stole his examinations. At this point, Course Hero does not appear to be a target in the infringement suit, but that could change depending upon what discovery reveals about the company’s policies regarding copyright materials.
Anyone confronted by what may well be a frivolous lawsuit may wish to consult an experienced intellectual property attorney for an evaluation of the case and an opinion on the probability of be dragged in or suffering a verdict for significant damages.