SINGAPORE: A teacher who enrolled her daughter in a highly acclaimed mathematics tuition centre began copying the worksheets her daughter received and selling them on Carousell for profit.
When the tuition centre caught wind of what happened, it issued cease-and-desist letters to the teacher, seeking damages and written undertakings. When the teacher did not comply, the tuition centre sought a court injunction for copyright infringement.
In a judgment made available on Thursday (Aug 31), District Judge Vince Gui granted the permanent injunction against Ms Charlotte Aw Bixi as sought by Concept Math Education Centre.
Ms Aw’s lawyer tried to dissuade the judge from granting the injunction, revealing that his client was a teacher with the Ministry of Education (MOE) and “had no intention of repeating the wrongs as she did not want to lose her job”.
Judge Gui found that this had the opposite effect and enhanced Ms Aw’s culpability, as she had “committed the wrongs despite her qualifications which would have acquainted her with the importance of academic integrity”.
According to the judgment, Concept Math Education Centre was founded by Ms Chuah Geok Lin, who had an accomplished teaching career before starting her business in 2013.
The business made its first million-dollar revenue within two years of its launch, with 600 students enrolled in its tuition classes in 2015 and 1,000 by 2016. According to the judgment, the media dubbed her a “super tutor”.
Ms Chuah’s teaching method emphasised developing students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and equipping them with the means to solve math problems confidently and accurately.
As head of curriculum, Ms Chuah first curated the lesson worksheets in 2010. A team comprising five others later built on these worksheets for the centre.
The defendant, Ms Aw, enrolled her daughter in Concept Math Education Centre’s classes sometime before April 2021. Her daughter received worksheets for her enrichment.
According to the judgment, Ms Aw realised the worth of the worksheets and decided to run a side hustle. She made copies and sold them on Carousell, hiding behind various pseudonyms including the name “Charsuu” to avoid detection.
Around April 2021, the tuition centre realised that someone was selling its worksheets on Carousell. At first, the centre suspected that the account belonged to a student.
The worksheets that were listed for sale had been distributed to students around December 2020 and March 2021.
The tuition centre engaged someone to contact the Carousell account, indicating interest in buying worksheets that already had notes.
Based on the information provided by the Carousell account, the buyer paid S$30 to a PayNow account under the name of “Serlin”. The next day, the buyer received the worksheets from an email address with the sender’s name indicated as “Wilbur Goh”.
The worksheets that were purchased contained handwritten notes by both the student and the teacher. Based on the markings, the tuition centre conducted internal investigations and identified the student.
The tuition centre got a second person to buy the worksheets again and found that they matched the student’s worksheets.
TUITION CENTER CONFRONTS MS AW
Armed with the evidence, the tuition centre confronted Ms Aw. In September 2021, its lawyers issued a demand letter to Ms Aw, alleging that she infringed the tuition centre’s copyright by reproducing and selling the worksheets.
The tuition centre also alleged that Ms Aw breached the terms of the tuition contract, and that she was acting in concert with third parties as part of a syndicate.
In an email response, Ms Aw took responsibility for the copyright infringement and said she had asked her friend, to whom she had sent the soft copy to, to remove it.
Ms Aw said her friend “only sold to one person online” and apologised.
However, she did not respond to the tuition centre’s demands for her to rectify the wrongs. The centre got its lawyers to send further letters to Ms Aw.
On Oct 15, 2021, Ms Aw’s newly engaged lawyers wrote back to say Ms Aw had used other names to avoid revealing her true identity to strangers online. The lawyers admitted that the infringing worksheets originated from Ms Aw’s daughter.
The tuition centre demanded that Ms Aw make amends, including issuing an undertaking not to commit further infringements, issuing a letter of apology, paying damages and making a statutory declaration that she has complied with the requests.
When Ms Aw did not meet these demands, the tuition centre commenced legal action, alleging copyright infringement and breach of the tuition enrolment contract.
The contract stated that parents and students are not to make copies, or allow copies to be made, of materials and documents used or provided during or outside lessons.
In Ms Aw’s case, she said the tuition centre was not the copyright owner. The contents of the worksheets were drawn from publicly available sources that belonged to third parties, claimed Ms Aw’s lawyers.
She also alleged that the tuition centre’s selection and arrangement of the contents were not original, as similar compilations can be found in published textbooks and assessment books.
Ms Aw mounted a claim of harassment, alleging that the tuition centre had used “threatening, abusive and/or insulting words or behaviour” in its demand letters, threatening to disclose Ms Aw’s copyright infringement to third parties.
Judge Gui found that the compilation of the worksheets was the product of the skill and judgment of the tuition centre’s curriculum team and that copyright subsists in the compilation.
He found that an injunction was justified, as Ms Aw’s infringements were systematic and repetitive, with multiple copies of the worksheets sold between May 2021 and September 2021.
Her listing was made on Carousell in April 2021, or possibly earlier, and she would likely have continued selling the worksheets if undetected.
Judge Gui added that Ms Aw offered not only completed worksheets but also blank copies. The worksheets were marked with the sentence: “Unauthorised copying, resale or distribution prohibited.”
The judge said Ms Aw’s misdeeds were aggravated by her lawyer’s revelation that she was an MOE teacher. This revelation was made to persuade the court not to grant an injunction, as she did not want to lose her job, said Judge Gui.
“That implied that she understood the importance of academic integrity to her profession. The fact that she went to great lengths to hide her identity behind various pseudonyms and email addresses shows that she knew the gravity of the infringing acts,” said the judge.
Ms Aw also refused to provide an undertaking not to repeat the infringements, even though the tuition centre had offered to redact her identity.
Judge Gui granted a declaratory order that Ms Aw had infringed on the tuition centre’s copyright in the worksheets. He granted a permanent injunction against Ms Aw to stop further infringements.
He also ordered Ms Aw to provide a written undertaking that all versions of the worksheets in her possession would be destroyed within seven days, and to pay the tuition centre costs.
He found that Ms Aw did not establish that her counterclaim for harassment was plausible.
CNA has contacted MOE for more information on any possible action against Ms Aw.