Udemy, the online-learning service, came under fire last week after multiple people discovered pirated versions of their courses being sold on the site without their permission.
It started when security expert Troy Hunt discovered that a course he had created on Ethical Hacking for Pluralsight, another online-learning site was being sold without his permission or knowledge on Udemy.
After reading about Hunt's experience, Rob Conery, the co-founder of Tekpup, a company that provides technical screencasts for programmers, searched the site and easily found a pirated version of his own Pluralsight course available for sale. Meanwhile, back in October, developer Jeffrey Way took to Twitter to complain that his content was being sold without his permission.
Udemy has since said that the person who uploaded Hunt's video did not make any money off the course (the user allowed members to sign-up via coupons). But Hunt remains frustrated over what he views as the company's insufficient screening process for identifying pirated or plagiarized content. In an interview with The Next Web he said:
They’ve obviously missed outright plagiarism and if they can miss that, the chances of them actually verifying the accuracy or quality of course content seems very low.
Paradoxically, the extensive preparation, approvals, peer reviews and quality controls I go through with every Pluralsight course are now being used to Udemy’s financial advantage when clearly they’ve lacked these controls themselves.
This weekend, Udemy's CEO Dennis Yang responded to the controversy. In a blog post, he outlined the company's plagiarism policy – as with YouTube and eBay, it relies on members to report copyright violations under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which includes a safe harbor provision that protects the company from infringement violations enacted by individual users – and stated that in most cases, the system works. "On average, over 15,000 courses are uploaded to Udemy per year," he wrote. "So far in 2015, we have received 125 DMCA notifications as well as 45 'Hey, this looks weird maybe you should look into this,' notifications. Our copyright team has looked into every one of these complaints."
Conery, for one, isn't satisfied. "Udemy has responded to Troy’s complaints (omitting mine altogether) with what amounts to a 'shrug,'" he wrote in a post on Medium. "What a load of shit."
A large part of Conery's initial criticism centered on the fact that in order to flag an infringement, users had to first become Udemy members. "Isn't that neat?" he wrote. "Isn't that sleazy?"
While Conery doesn’t like Udemy's overall response to his plagiarism concerns, perhaps he can take a victory, however slight, in the company's promise to reevaluate its screening procedure.
"Our escalation team will be meeting after the holiday to review all of our copyright processes, including allowing people who do not have a Udemy account to use our flagging notification system," Yang wrote.