“He recognized his very unique fact patterns,” Marc Hankin, Berkovitz’s attorney, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “He found what he believes to be evidence that one or more students were seeking and receiving help actually during the exams last spring.”
Now, Berkovitz is suing the unknown students from the Orange, Calif., university for copyright infringement. In a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the professor alleges the students “infringed Berkovitz’s exclusive right to reproduce, make copies, distribute, or create derivative works by publishing the Midterm Exam and Final Exam on the Course Hero website without Berkovitz’s permission.”
Berkovitz, who is also a lawyer, has no intention of gouging the students for money, Hankin clarified. His real goal is to force Course Hero to reveal who posted the questions and find out whether they received help answering them last spring. Then he plans to pass the names on to Chapman’s honor board for possible disciplinary action.
“He’s not trying to bankrupt his students or their parents,” Hankin said. “What he’s trying to do is prevent cheating and have a chilling effect on students cheating going forward.”
The university is not involved in the lawsuit.
Courses were remote last spring because of the pandemic, and Berkovitz included strict instructions with his April 2021 midterm exam and May 2021 final exam, Hankin said. In addition to forbidding students from using any class materials, notes or online resources while taking the tests, the professor instructed students that they were “prohibited from copying any part of the exam.” Nevertheless, as students were taking those exams, questions from both tests were posted on Course Hero with requests for help answering them, Hankin said.
After finding the questions on Course Hero several months later, in January, Berkovitz asked the education website for information on who posted them, according to Hankin. But the company allegedly refused, telling Berkovitz he would need a subpoena.
In a statement to The Post, a spokeswoman for Course Hero said users posting on the website agree to terms of service stating that they cannot publish content that does not belong to them.
“Course Hero does not tolerate copyright infringement of any kind and employs a range of preventative measures and investigation and enforcement policies,” the spokeswoman said.
She added that Berkovitz’s case “was swiftly handled by our compliance team upon receiving a takedown notice.”
Berkovitz first needed copyright certificates from the U.S. Copyright Office, Hankin said. He and his lawyer filed expedited applications on Feb. 24 and were approved the following day, according to the lawsuit. Then he was able to file the copyright infringement lawsuit and serve the subpoena.
“Normally, a professor wouldn’t sue his own students for something like this, and professors are trying to stop cheaters all the time,” Hankin said. But in this case, Berkovitz had to have a case pending in court to get the information he needed.
Hankin said they plan to serve the subpoena to Course Hero this week. Once they receive the information, Berkovitz will probably drop the case, his attorney said.
Berkovitz’s motivation is more nuanced than just holding students accountable for cheating on his exams, his attorney said. Because Chapman’s business school grades students on a curve, anyone who cheated and may have received a higher grade possibly affected the curve for students who followed the honor code and received a lower score.
Hankin also speculated about the potential impact on students whose scholarships are tied to a minimum GPA.
“It is conceivable that the one or more students who cheated could have knocked somebody else out of getting their scholarship and out of their eligibility to go to Chapman because they lowered their grade enough that they missed the grade-point average cutoff,” Hankin said.
That is why the professor is seeking the information from Course Hero, he said.
“[Berkovitz is] trying to make the class safe for students who want to be honest and honorable,” Hankin said. “It’s a shame that not all of them are.”