A Miami University student named Erik Johnson is suing online proctoring company Proctorio.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, alleges that Proctorio falsely accused Johnson of copyright infringement and impeded his First Amendment rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to protect digital rights and free speech, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Arizona on behalf of Johnson.
Johnson, who works as a security researcher in addition to studying computer science, became curious about how Proctorio monitors students during tests and began examining the source code in Proctorio's Chrome browser extension in the fall of 2020.
The source code contained references to tracking tactics Johnson felt were intrusive. He tweeted about his privacy concerns and linked to snippets of code from Proctorio's product.
Proctorio's CEO, Mike Olsen, reached out to Johnson privately to ask him to remove the code he had copied and pasted onto a website called Pastebin. When Johnson refused, Proctorio filed a takedown request with Twitter to remove the tweets linking to the code. That takedown request was initially honored but later reversed following reporting by publications such as TechCrunch.
The EFF believes that Johnson's use of the software code was not a copyright infringement and constitutes fair use.
"Software companies don't get to abuse copyright law to undermine their critics," said Cara Gagliano, a staff attorney at EFF, in a press release. "Using pieces of code to explain your research or support critical commentary is no different from quoting a book in a book review."
"Posting these kinds of things … it risks students learning how to circumvent the software, and it risks the safety and security of millions of students who use the software," Olsen told The Verge.