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NCEES Obtains Copyright Infringement Judgment Against Examinee

This copyright infringement case exemplifies the reasons for the strict NCEES calculator policy.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying has obtained a copyright infringement and unfair business practices judgment against a former examinee who inappropriately and unlawfully copied questions from the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination. NCEES filed the civil suit against Siavash Hakkakian of Sacramento, California, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California soon after he was convicted on a criminal misdemeanor charge of attempted examination subversion by the state of California.

During the April 2002 administration of the FE examination, Hakkakian was observed using a calculator in an odd manner. The California Board representatives who observed him during the examination believed he had altered his calculator to use as a scanner and was scanning the examination questions to remove them from the site. When he refused to let them inspect the calculator, he was dismissed and disqualified from the examination.

The state board turned the matter over to the California Department of Consumer Affairs' Division of Investigation to conduct a formal investigation. The DOI executed a search warrant and seized one of Hakkakian's computers from his home. Located on the computer's hard drive were 158 examination questions that were identical or substantially similar to actual questions from previous FE examinations. The Sacramento County District Attorney's Office filed the criminal charge of attempted examination subversion against Hakkakian. He pled no contest to the charge on September 17, 2003, and was subsequently sentenced.

At its February 2004 meeting, the NCEES Board of Directors authorized NCEES staff to initiate civil action against Hakkakian.

The Stipulation of Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction was entered by the court on March 24, 2005. The judgment states that Hakkakian "infringed NCEES's copyrights in one or more FE examination forms and its copyrights in the questions and answers contained therein" and that he "acted in a manner and with sufficient knowledge to have his actions characterized as willful copyright infringement."

Under the terms of the judgment, Hakkakian is enjoined from registering for or taking any future administration of the FE examination or other NCEES examinations. He must also deliver to NCEES all copies of any FE exam questions in his possession and pay statutory damages agreed upon by both parties.

"NCEES is serious about exam security, and we will not hesitate to pursue legal action," says NCEES Executive Director Betsy Browne. "Our exams are our lifeblood. Dealing harshly with individuals who refuse to respect exam security and our intellectual property rights helps ensure the integrity of the licensing process for engineers and surveyors."

"This is also a good example of why NCEES has a strict calculator policy," says Browne. For many years, NCEES policy has prohibited calculators with text-editing and communication abilities from the examination rooms. Of great concern is the ability to type in text, store it in memory, and then transfer the data to another calculator, personal computer, or other electronic device. Beginning with the April 2005 examinations, NCEES extended the ban to all calculators not on a short list of approved calculators to reduce confusion among examinees and proctors.

A primary function of NCEES is to prepare standardized, confidential licensure examinations administered nationally every April and October. State boards use the examinations to help determine the competency of individuals seeking to become licensed to practice as professional engineers and surveyors. NCEES also provides examination scoring and administration services to licensing boards, as well as a variety of other products and services to engineering and surveying professionals. NCEES headquarters is located in Clemson, S.C.

Source: NCEES, May 2, 2005

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