Prosecutors are investigating Hackers Education Group, a local English education franchise, on suspicion of illegally copying and redistributing copyrighted English test questions.
Investigators of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said Monday that they had indicted six management members of the company including chairman identified by his surname Cho without detention on charges of copyright violation.
The group’s language education and research units have also been indicted on the same charges.
Hackers is well known for its accurate prediction of English proficiency tests and currently operates a nationwide academy franchise, publishing companies and other educational subsidiaries.
According to the investigators, Cho ordered 50 of his staff workers to apply for and take the two most popular English proficiency tests here from 2007 to early this year. The two tests are Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), administered by the U.S.-based Educational Testing Service (ETS), and Test of English Proficiency (TEPS) developed by Seoul National University.
The employees, assigned to cover different sections of the tests, were given tiny video and audio recorders to capture and record the questions on TOEIC 49 times and on TEPS 57 times. Questions of the recently adopted National English Ability Test were also copied in the same way using specially designed recorders, the prosecutors said.
The stolen questions were forwarded to the company, which were solved by native English speakers there, and then uploaded on Hackers subsidiaries’ website to share with students.
In order to evade being caught for copyright violation, the questions were deleted the following day. Instead, similar questions were released in its textbooks. Hackers instructors at classes used the actual questions.
The investigators believe that such copying of questions has helped the private education company to rake in 100 billion won ($89.1 million) in revenue in 2010 alone, and 36 billion won in net profit.
“There have been cases where test takers tried to memorize questions and later used them. But never have there been such organized irregularities using employees and state-of-the-art devices,” an officer said.
“The Educational Testing Service, the organizer of TOEIC, has recently developed a test tailored for Koreans due to worries about leaked questions and the actual English language proficiency of Koreans,” he added.
Hackers has reportedly claimed that their recording of questions was a simple research method.
“The questions we have published on our textbooks were inspired by the test problems but were not copied. We did not violate copyright law,” it has reportedly said.
Cho, an English professor at a national university since 2001, also is accused of violating the law banning public officials from pursuing profit-seeking practices. He gained reputation when his English teaching method became popular among students.
By Bae Ji-sook (email@example.com)