An educational publishing company sued Houston ISD for copyright infringement, alleging that the district repeatedly unlawfully reproduced, distributed, adapted and displayed its copyrighted works. The copyrighted material consisted primarily of preparation materials for state standardized tests. The company alleged generally that district employees covered up copyrights on study guides, duplicated and disseminated them over the course of several years. Some of the specific acts of infringement that it alleged included the following:

  • Posting copyrighted materials online for anyone to download;
  • Plagiarizing copyrighted works and then making the plagiarized documents available on the website for anyone to download;
  • Placing tape over language on copyrighted works that stated “COPYING THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED” prior to copying the works or posting them online;

Although the company contacted the school district multiple times over the course of four years about the allegations of copyright infringement, it denied wrongdoing and failed to take adequate steps to stop the violations. As a result, the copyrighted materials reached up to 28 other school districts and several states.

After the district rejected an initial settlement offer for $250,000 in 2016, the case went to trial. A jury awarded $9.2 million in damages to the company. In doing so, the jury found that the district intentionally manipulated and shared copyrighted materials, which increased the amount of damages per violation. Following the jury trial, rather than appeal the verdict, the district agreed to settle the case by paying $7.8 million in damages.