Cheating on exams has been around for as long as – exams. While teachers have devised and implemented all sorts of clever countermeasures to make cheating more difficult, one should never underestimate the lengths to which cheaters will go to improve their scores. But a professor at Chapman University, apparently determined to show that cheaters never prosper, has upped the ante, using litigation to uncover the identity of the person (or persons) who posted a copy of his prior examinations on a website called Course Hero, a site used by students to share lecture notes, syllabuses, and other course-related materials.
David Berkovitz, who teaches business law at Chapman University, sued a group of “John Doe” defendants in federal court, accusing them of copyright infringement. The objective of the lawsuit is to compel Course Hero to disclose what it knows about the people who uploaded his tests so that Berkovitz can attempt to glean their identities. If he is able to identify the culprits, Berkovitz plans to report their names to the university’s honor board for potential disciplinary action.
Course Hero is not named as a defendant in the suit and, according to reporting in the New York Times, indicated it would comply with a subpoena. Course Hero’s website states that it “does not tolerate copyright infringement, plagiarism[,] or cheating of any kind” and cautions users who misuse the site that they will be “permanently banned from the platform.”
It is likely that Professor Berkovitz will know within a few weeks whether the alleged cheaters were clever enough to sufficiently mask their identities so as to frustrate the ensuing investigation. Time will tell whether this story becomes a cautionary tale about the difficulty of concealing one’s true identity in an increasingly digital world or a frightening reminder of how easy it is to conceal one’s identity online.
Nixon Peabody’s Cybersecurity & Privacy Team will continue to monitor this case.