Hackers Education Group – a cram school franchise – has been very successful over the past couple of years – in fact, it is believed that it “raked in 100 billion won ($89.1 million) in revenue in 2010 alone, and 36 billion won in net profit.” But this powerful company is in trouble for alleged copyright infringement. 

Never heard of Hackers Education Group?  Here’s its home page (English) and here is the Korean home page.  According to this ad (name removed):

Hackers Language Research Institute (HLRI) is a reputable and successful English language research institute that specializes in publishing preparatory books for standardized tests such as TOEFL, TOEIC, TEPS and IELTS. Located in the heart of Gangnam-gu, near Gangnam Station, it also boasts one of the most popular language academies for university-aged students. The founder, Dr. XXXX XXXX, is one of South Korea’s top professors of linguistics. He put all of his knowledge into the development of a system of English language learning for Korean students. The team at HLRI works diligently to maintain his standards and push forward the company’s goal of providing the highest quality of up-to-date research to the Korean population.

 What kind of “up-to-date research” you ask?  Korea Herald (February 7, 2012) has the answer:

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.

It probably doesn’t need to be said….but

Media reports said Hackers had earned a reputation for accurately predicting test questions.

Guess you would if you already had them.

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.

 Of course this has led to some questioning of Korean students’ true English ability.  According to AFP (February 7, 2012) :

Such a practice has prompted the ETS to raise questions over South Korean students’ genuine English-speaking ability… and sparked a negative international image of South Korea,” the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said in the statement.

Shocking! And, ever so contritely, Hackers Education Group explained that:

…documenting the test questions was only part of legitimate research.

The group’s founder has more than just copyright laws to worry about.  (JoongAng Daily, February 7, 2012)

“The group’s shares are owned 100 percent by Cho, who since 2001 has worked as a linguistics professor in a national university but has managed the group secretly,” prosecutors said, “further infringing on the ban on civil officials holding more than one office.”