Professor Sues Students for Copyright Infringement Related to Exams

Battles over copyright often involve pop songs, novels, and movies. In an unusual case in California, though, an assistant professor at Chapman University is alleging infringement on another type of copyrighted material:  his exams. The professor, David Berkovitz, claims that he found sections of a midterm and a final exam for one of his courses posted on Course Hero. This is a database of study materials organized by schools and courses.

Berkovitz applied to register copyrights for his exams after finding them on Course Hero. (Registration is not required to prevail in a copyright infringement case, although a plaintiff cannot obtain statutory damages unless their work was registered before the infringement, or unless they registered the work within three months of publication.) The registrations were granted on February 25. Berkovitz then filed suit, arguing that five of his students infringed on rights protected by federal copyright law by publishing the exams on Course Hero without his permission. Among other things, copyright law prevents the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of protected works.

Since Berkovitz does not know which students were responsible, the complaint does not name specific defendants, but it will be amended once their identities are revealed. To find out who posted the exams, Berkovitz will subpoena Course Hero. In addition to damages, he seeks a permanent injunction and an order to impound the devices that contain copies of the exams within the control of the defendants. However, Berkovitz may drop the case once the identities of the students are revealed. He has claimed that he is not focused on recovering damages but instead on preventing cheating and referring the students for disciplinary proceedings within the university.

Photo Credit:  Matt Gush /