Emily Chow is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
To read part 1 of this article, click here.
In September 2020, Proctorio filed a lawsuit against former UBC employee and Open Education Librarian Ian Linkletter for tweeting links to Proctorio’s Help Centre YouTube videos for instructors and taking a screenshot of the website. In its lawsuit, Proctorio sought a declaration that Linkletter infringed its copyright, circumvented technological protection measures, and breached confidence. The company was also granted an interim injunction preventing Linkletter from sharing further links and videos from their websites.
Linkletter defended his actions, admitting to the tweets but denied copyright infringement or breached confidence. In his defence, he also identified the Proctorio lawsuit as part of a growing trend of “SLAPP” litigation — Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation — intended to deter and ultimately silence outspoken critics and inhibit participation in public affairs.
On March 11, 2022, the decision Proctorio, Incorporated v. Linkletter was released, written by Justice Milman of the BC Supreme Court. The issues at stake were whether the action should be dismissed under s. 4 of the BC Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA) and if the injunction should remain in its present form.
Breach of Confidence
Section 4 of the PPPA states that the applicant may apply for a dismissal order on the basis that the proceeding arises from an expression made by the applicant, and that the expression relates to a matter of public interest. The leading case for interpreting this section is 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association, where the first branch of the test requires an applicant to demonstrate on a balance of probabilities that the action arises from one’s expression that “relates to a matter of public interest” (Pointes at para 23). If successful, the action must be dismissed unless the other party can demonstrate that (1) there are grounds to believe that the action has substantial merit; (2) the applicant has no valid defence; and (3) the harm suffered as a result of the expression is serious enough to outweigh the public interest protecting the expression.
Proctorio did not dispute the fact that the ongoing debate of the impact of its software was of public interest; rather, it focused on Linkletter’s supposed malicious intent and sharing of confidential links. Milman J. was not persuaded on this point, stating that “[Linkletter] was using the content of the videos in an effort to illustrate his point about the harm that Proctorio’s software was capable of causing to some students” (para 50).
Milman J. then proceeded to discuss the merits of Proctorio’s case against Linkletter, assessing whether the tweets constituted a breach of confidence. On the one hand, he found that Proctorio’s choice to host the help videos on a website such as YouTube over other secured options weakened the case that the information Linkletter tweeted out was confidential. However, he also considered that the unlisted videos were accessed through Proctorio’s Help Centre, which Linkletter entered through the instructor sign-in portal and was thus subject to Proctorio’s Terms of Service that restricts sharing. Milman J. found that Proctorio met its burden under s. 4(2)(a) of the PPPA to show there were grounds to believe that its claim for breach of confidence has substantial merit and that there are no valid defences to it (para 83).
Copyright Infringement and Fair Dealing
Proctorio, as a copyright owner under s. 3 of the Copyright Act, argued that hyperlinking to the unlisted videos constituted an infringement of their copyright. Milman J. agreed, noting that the links were only accessible via the Help Centre for users logged in as accredited instructors or administrators. With regards to the tweeted screenshot, Linkletter successfully argued that the image was not “a substantial part” of the copyrighted work in which the Copyright Act’s s. 3 protects.
Lastly, Milman J. discussed Linkletter’s defence on the basis of fair dealing (s. 29 of the Copyright Act) and non-commercial user generated content (s. 29.21). Whether or not a dealing is “fair” depends on the purpose, character, and amount of the dealing, as well as possible alternatives, the nature of the work, and the effect of the dealing.
Milman J. accepted that Linkletter’s real purpose in copying the links to his Twitter feed was to demonstrate his point about the harm he believed Proctorio’s software was causing students, arising out of a genuine sense of public duty rather than malice (para 107). However, he was unable to conclude that it was necessary for Linkletter to share all the videos he did in order to make his point. He also found that Proctorio had a legitimate interest in keeping the instructional materials private only to instructors and administrators. In sharing the links, Milman J. found that Linkletter created a risk that Proctorio’s product would be rendered less effective for its intended purpose (because students would be able to anticipate how instructors configured Proctorio’s invigilation settings) and that its proprietary information would be made more readily available to competitors (para 112). These risks were found to be unlikely to materialize and mainly speculative.
The Status of the Injunction
Milman J. found that the injunction granted to Proctorio was granted in overly broad terms, and the injunction ought to have been framed more narrowly so that it prohibited “no more than the conduct [Milman J.] found to be properly actionable, namely, Mr. Linkletter’s public sharing of materials posted on the Help Centre and Academy webpages, and encouraging others to do so” (para 145).
In summary, success for each party was divided. As of April 13, 2022, Linkletter publicly announced that he will appeal the BCSC decision, saying “there is too much at stake to let the decision stand.” Although the resolution is still unclear, it is certain that this case — as well as similar litigation in the US — has foregrounded important conversations about the ethics of AI-powered invigilation methods worldwide.
Linkletter’s defence and GoFundMe (donations closed): https://www.gofundme.com/f/stand-against-proctorio
The New Yorker’s deep-dive on online test-monitoring: https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/is-online-test-monitoring-here-to-stay
The Coronavirus pandemic and surge in demand for exam proctoring: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/05/11/online-proctoring-surging-during-covid-19