Staff of Hackers Group, one of the best-known English test preparation services in Korea, have been indicted on charges of illegally recording questions from official English language proficiency tests. Prosecutors said Hackers Group mobilized around 50 staff to record test questions over a four-year period.
"Through organized efforts to leak test questions, Hackers Group was able to achieve W100 billion (US$1=W1,122) in annual sales and W36 billion in net profit just eight years after its establishment," a prosecution spokesman said. Lax attitudes to copyrights that pervade Korean society and the belief that any means are justified to achieve high standardized test scores are the reasons such abuses continue, he added.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office on Monday said the 50-year-old chairman of Hackers Group identified only by his surname Cho instructed staff to sit 49 Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) and 57 Test of English Proficiency (TEPS) tests in order to steal the copyright-protected questions between 2007 and early this year.
Prosecutors said staff memorized the test questions or used special devices to record the questions and then posted them on the company's website almost in real time and deleted them the following morning in order to avoid detection. The company then had its native English teachers review and touch them up for use as materials.
Hackers Group vehemently denies the charges. "The copying of test materials is a practice that has gone on in the industry for a long time and we either modified the test questions or created new ones based on them. It does not constitute copyright violation," it said in a statement. “We regret the use of devices, but the questions that appeared in a test do not appear in a test again, so we did not interfere with the business of other companies."
Although prosecutors have cried foul, some exam takers said the copying of test questions is common practice among language institutes. One instructor at a language institute in Seoul said, "Students have no qualms about asking me to share test questions with them. A lot of students are not interested in improving their language skills but only in getting high scores."