04/16/2015 05:30 EDT | Updated 06/27/2015 05:59 EDT

Student-help site raises plagiarism, copyright concerns

Academics and administration officials at Concordia and McGill universities are raising concerns over Course Hero, a note-sharing website for students which boasts more than just notes.

The U.S. based company now has an online presence covering Canadian campuses from Memorial University in Newfoundland to the University of British Columbia.

Looking at only a few of its hundreds of pages, CBC Montreal Investigates found 35 chapters lifted from textbooks, and 56 professors' presentations.

"I'm disappointed," said Saif Ullah, a finance teacher at Concordia University, when CBC showed him that slides he prepared for lectures wound up on the site without his knowledge or consent.

"It's not their job to take the university's materials and to post them online," Ullah said.

No active monitoring

Some concerned there's nobody at Course Hero actively monitoring the site.

Erin Hurley teaches drama and theatre at McGill University. She found none of the material she's prepared on Course Hero, but is worried about the idea she should actively watch out for it.

"If I, as an instructor, am meant to police these websites that I didn't know existed and that have never approached me -- as a possible content copyright owner of material that is posted to their sites — that's another bunch of work that I'm meant to be doing."

All complaints reviewed: Course Hero

Course Hero's CEO defended his site.

Andrew Grauer told CBC the site makes it clear posting copyrighted materials is not allowed, and it also doesn't tolerate plagiarism.

"Any cases where there's alleged infringement, we react to that as fast as we can" Grauer said.
He added site administrators review any complaints received and take down material that's under copyright protection.

He said he does not have the resources to actively monitor the site for copyrighted material, and American copyright law would be tougher on him if he did.

"The law says the more that we do active review, the actual more liability that we have, so we're actually pretty hand-tied by how much we can be proactive," he said.

Grauer added that the site's contents are detected by search engines, so teachers concerned about potential plagiarism in their students' essays could easily look up Course Hero.

Students keen on idea

Randomly surveyed students at McGill said they could see the potential in a website that allows them to look at notes and old exams.

"I think it's useful to a certain extent," said finance student Alex Adam.

"If they're relatively cheap and complete, I guess I'd go for it," said political science student Matilde Alvarez.

Universities watching closely

Administration officials at Concordia and McGill said students are constantly reminded about the pitfalls of plagiarism and posting copyrighted material.

Concordia's vice-provost of teaching and academic learning said it will set up an office on academic integrity to further guide students.

"Part of it is just to get out there and remind people, remind people, remind people what is appropriate and what is inappropriate," said Catherine Bolton.

"There are thousands of sites out there, so it's hard for us to keep on top of everything."

The Canadian Association of University Teachers said it is also looking into concerns raised by websites such as Course Hero.