Lawyers for popular online study service Chegg responded this week to a sweeping copyright lawsuit filed in September by Pearson Education, arguing that Pearson’s accusations of “massive” copyright infringement are “legally flawed” and anti-student.
The suit revolves around Chegg Study, a popular subscription study service that features answers to end-of-chapter homework questions from various texts for $14.95 a month. In the initial complaint, filed September 13 in federal court in New Jersey, lawyers for Pearson accused Chegg of illegally appropriating Pearson’s end-of-chapter textbook questions for the service, arguing that “if, when, and how Pearson provides answer sets to its textbook questions is a right owned by Pearson that Chegg usurped for itself.”
But in their answer, filed on November 19, Chegg attorneys accuse Pearson of “weaponizing” its “limited copyright interests” in an effort to “throttle” lawful innovation.
“Pearson’s textbook copyrights do not grant it a monopoly over the right to solve an end-of-chapter problem,” Chegg’s answer states. “By filing the complaint, demanding that Chegg remove all of its independently created step-by-step solutions for questions appearing in Pearson textbooks, and alleging that Chegg has infringed Pearson’s copyright by solving Pearson questions, Pearson is improperly seeking to leverage any copyright it owns in textbooks to obtain a monopoly over solutions to its textbook questions, which is a monopoly beyond the scope of exclusive rights conferred under the Copyright Act.”
In its answer, Chegg specifically asserts 13 potential defenses, including fair use, copyright misuse, and laches. One of Chegg’s key defenses is a suggestion that Pearson “prejudiced” Chegg’s conduct by allowing and even encouraging Chegg to invest in and grow its service through an express license agreement before abruptly pulling the rug out from Chegg in February, 2021—details, Chegg attorneys claim, that are obscured in Pearson’s complaint.
“Chegg Study has invested in providing original, step-by-step solutions to textbook questions, including from Pearson textbooks, since approximately 2010. And for over a decade, Pearson not only acquiesced in the lawfulness of this practice, Pearson endorsed it, and profited from it,” Chegg attorneys states, going on to argue that Chegg continued to invest time and money in the service “in reliance upon Pearson’s conduct.”
According to court filings, Chegg Study reportedly counted roughly 6.6 million subscribers as of 2020, with some $644 million in total revenue.
A scheduling conference has been set for January 24.