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Professor files lawsuit to find students who posted exam questions online

Afternoon light on Nov. 1, 1996, bathes Chapman Auditorium on the campus of Chapman University in California. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

(CNN) — An assistant professor of business at Southern California’s Chapman University has filed suit against five students, whose identities remain unknown, alleging copyright infringement for posting exam questions anonymously in an online forum.

According to Professor David Berkovitz’ attorney Marc Hankin, the students, who took midterm and final exams remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic during the spring semester of 2021, are alleged to have posted elements of the tests on Course Hero, a crowdsourced website dedicated to course-specific study supplements.

Because the business school at Chapman requires grading on a curve, Hankin said, Berkovitz believes by posting exam-specific questions on Course Hero, “students may have inflated their grades, penalizing other students who did not cheat.”

Chapman University, which is not named in the lawsuit, has not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment.

After Berkovitz discovered elements of his exam posted on Course Hero, he requested information from the website identifying the students, Hankin said, but Course Hero declined to provide the information without a subpoena, as stated in its privacy policy. A lawsuit is necessary to obtain a subpoena, Hankin said in an interview with CNN, and he said he expects one to be issued no later than Monday.

With a paid account starting at $9.95 a month, college students from across the globe can pose specific questions on Course Hero with answers promised “in as few as 15 minutes,” according to the website.

“Course Hero does not tolerate copyright infringement of any kind and employs a range of preventative measures, investigation, and enforcement policies,” the company said in a statement to CNN.

Ironically, the exam elements at the heart of the lawsuit were for a business law class, in which copyright infringement was a topic being studied, Hankin said.

Although the lawsuit includes claims for costs and damages, Berkovitz, who is also a lawyer, said he is not seeking to punish the students financially, but wants to stop the alleged cheating. “He wants to help the students that didn’t cheat,” said Hankin, acknowledging at this point, “he doesn’t know how much harm has been done, if any.”

Hankin added professors from universities all over the country have been reaching out to Berkovitz, commending him for taking action to help curb cheating.

Once the students are identified, along with the timeline of when the questions were posed, and answers were retrieved, Berkovitz plans to turn the information over to the university to handle any possible honor code violations, according to his attorney.

“If a question was posed during exam time, and a student received answers, it would be a clear indication of cheating,” Hankin said.

Course Hero’s own honor code spells out what users may and may not use in their quest for answers, and specifically advises against cheating.

“Course Hero never wants unauthorized content on our site and before students and educators upload their content, they must agree to our Terms of Use and Academic Honor Code, which explicitly states they may only upload content they have the right to upload,” the company said in a statement to CNN.