U of T has announced that it is suing Easy Group Inc. — an international education company founded by Jacky Zhang, a U of T alum — and related operations Easy Education, Easy EDU, Easy 4.0, and ez4edu.
The university alleges that the company’s “course packs” are collecting and selling material from many U of T courses. These course packs allegedly include lecture slides, course syllabi, tests, and exams.
ez4edu’s website advertises course materials from over 1,000 Canadian university classes, including courses from the University of Waterloo, York University, McGill University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Alberta.
The lawsuit was filed in reference to the copyright infringement of three U of T professors’ course materials: Robert Gazzale, an associate professor of economics at UTSG; Lisa Kramer, a professor in finance at UTM; and Ai Taniguchi, an assistant professor of linguistics at UTM. The three professors are listed alongside the university as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages, the return of copyrighted materials, and an injunction to prevent future copyright infringement.
U of T is also demanding that Easy Group Inc. return all of its direct or indirect revenues that came from the sale of copyright infringed materials, as well as an “award of punitive and exemplary damages.”
The university first raised copyright concerns with an Easy EDU representative in October 2020. Two months later, Easy EDU assured the university that it would examine its material to “ensure there is absolutely no copyright infringement.” However, the university claims that Easy EDU continued to infringe copyright.
In April 2021, the university sent a letter to Easy EDU restating its demand for the company to cease the selling of tutoring packages with replicated materials. According to the university, Easy EDU did not respond.
Concerns for students
The university alleges that Easy EDU “unfairly exploits” students, especially international students who may harbour “fears of not doing well in an unfamiliar setting.”
In an email to The Varsity, Kramer echoed these concerns. She wrote that students who have purchased the materials “may have the mistaken impression that the university and professors are partnering with the company, which we are not.”
The statement of claim alleges that, by creating that impression, Easy EDU “infringed the professors’ moral rights.”
Kramer explained that students may not be aware that “by using these materials, they may be violating the university’s academic integrity policies, which can lead to serious outcomes including grade penalties, transcript notations, and suspension.”
“Additionally, students are being charged high sums for access to materials they will often obtain automatically when they take a course,” she wrote. She added that Easy EDU provides assistance comparable to what students can access for free — for example, by approaching instructors or seeking out on-campus academic support.
In a statement to The Varsity, Gazzale added, “I am especially saddened that this seems to be part of a business model based on selling ‘gaming the system’ as opposed to ‘learning economics.’”
The university cautions against the use of tutoring services, like those Easy EDU offers, for they may provide students with “unauthorized academic assistance.” Violations of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters may lead to penalties for academic misconduct and cheating, like a suspension or an assigned grade of zero for the course.
The announcement explains that students have access to numerous academic supports through the university. These academic supports include “14 writing centres that offer one-on-one support, learning strategists, organized study groups, old exam banks, workshops and an academic success centre.”
U of T has pledged to use any funds obtained from the lawsuit for student academic support.
The Varsity has reached out to Easy EDU and Ai Taniguchi for comment.