If you are an educational content creator- whether you create lessons to sell or you just create lessons for your classroom- you should be checking sites like Course Hero regularly for your work. Students are encouraged by Course Hero to upload “study” documents and in exchange for doing so, they get access to previously uploaded documents. The site is aimed at college students. You can upload 40 documents to unlock access to hundreds of other uploaded “notes.” The problem is that it is not student notes that are being uploaded, it’s professors and content creators copyrighted intellectual property that these students do not have permission to post. Course Hero has subscriptions that students can pay as well. So, this means that Course Hero is actively encouraging students to steal copyrighted work and upload it to their site. A quick look at Course Hero will reveal a litany of exams and assignments with answer keys. That is simply plagiarism. Jump onto Reddit if you want to find huge threads of college students saying they got caught using Course Hero and are facing academic probation at their universities.
Problem #1: Encouraging Copyright Infringement
Even though Course Hero has an “Honor Code” in its terms that says you may only upload content that belongs to you, it looks like very few students are abiding by this or they simply do not read the Terms of Service. Because- shocker- a college student in desperate need of answers to a test isn’t going to diligently read the Terms of Service before uploading every document he’s gotten from his college classes in order to gain access to the tools of plagiarism he requires. Of course Course Hero is aware of this practice. Their business model is built upon it. The website is supposed to “level the playing field” so that cheating doesn’t only have to occur in frat houses where exam answers have traditionally been shared. Now, everyone can either pay Course Hero or steal the work of other people to share in the same perks that cheating frat houses do!
Problem #2: Encouraging Plagiarism
Course Hero will argue that their platform is a place for students to collaborate and share notes. However, uploading answer keys and making students pay to access them is not exactly facilitating “studying.” I am baffled at how it would even allowed for students to upload exam answer keys. The site obviously has no policy of reviewing material that students put up. Teachers and professors work really hard to create lectures, assignments, and assessments that move their students forward. One reason plagiarism is not allowed is because it’s damaging to students. Sites like Course Hero are just blatantly selling material to desperate college students that are chasing a grade. Course Hero and other similar sites are playing an active role in undermining the value of the college degree, and worst of all, they are profiting from doing so. I know full well students will share material and will go to great lengths to cheat when they feel the pressure is on, but do we really have to have companies in existence that profit from this behavior?
Course Hero’s Copyright Infringement Procedure
I create and sell original lesson plans and assignments on Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s a big part of my livelihood. To create an assignment takes hours of work. It’s more work that creating an assignment for use only in my classroom because I have to make it really polished and professional. I have to think about what the purchaser of the assignment will need to know about real classroom implementation. I type up careful notes for the teacher with teaching suggestions and sometimes things like optimal printing instructions. Then, I have to write descriptions and create original cover art for the posting on TpT. And finally, I often write a blog post and do some Pinterest pinning to help bring eyes to the product. It’s hours and hours of upfront work and I have a tendency to price my lessons very cheaply because, while I’m seeking a profit, I also don’t think I should be charging fellow teachers an arm and leg for teaching materials.
So, I noticed that one of my products suddenly stopped selling. I figured someone must have posted it for free online somewhere and went straight to Google. And there it was, right on Course Hero. The first few pages were visible but I would have to buy a monthly subscription to their service to see the full document. It hadn’t be altered in anyway. In fact, the reason it caught my eye so quickly is because of the absurdly long document title it had. It was one of the first versions of an assignment I had created in 2019.
I first email Coure Hero’s customer service and go no response. Then, I found the copyright section of their website and there is a link to submit a form if you are the holder of the copyright on a document that has been uploaded without permission. I submitted the form and got a response the next day. The response said:
“In order to move forward with your DMCA takedown notification, we require additional clarification describing the copyrighted work. Please provide the original copyrighted work or lists of works claimed to have infringed as required by the DMCA per 17 U.S.C s512(c) (3)(A)(ii). Providing some or all of the following information may be useful in your description:
-Date of publication
-Location of the originally hosted third party URL
Upon receipt of the requested information, Course Hero will proceed with your notice.”
I provided the requested information even though most of it I had already provided in my initial submission. I find it very irritating that I had to send them my work and then prove that I was, in fact, the author. In my reply, I asked if they had any procedures for requiring proof of authorship/copyright ownership when someone uploads a document. I also requested payment for the time they “rented” my material which is part of my business. Those questions remain unanswered but they did take down my stolen product. They also notified me that if they received a counter-notice from the person who uploaded my property, that they would put it back it up.
The person who uploads copyrighted materials without proper permissions has to be a repeat offender to be banned from the site. So, it is fine with Course Hero if people do a little bit of stealing but eventually they’ll revoke your privileges to gain access to stolen material for the purpose of cheating.
What You Should Do About It
If you are a professor or a creator of educational content, you should check Course Hero for your work and submit the take down notices for anything you find even if it’s something you post openly like a syllabus. Your students should be getting your material from you- not paying for it through Course Hero. I think it’s actually great if students want to share notes, but that is not what’s happening on Course Hero. I can see the work of fellow TpT authors on the site and I know people working to create products to sell are not uploading them to Course Hero so Course Hero can profit from them.