Udemy Targets ‘Pirate’ Site Giving Away its Paid Courses For Free

Online learning platform Udemy is taking on FreeTutorials.us, a site making available a wide range of paid courses and tutorials for free. A California court has ordered Cloudflare to hand over all the information it has on FreeTutorials' operators but the site says it will continue its mission to provide free education for everyone.

While there’s no shortage of people who advocate free sharing of movies and music, passions are often raised when it comes to the availability of educational information.

Significant numbers of people believe that learning should be open to all and that texts and associated materials shouldn’t be locked away by copyright holders trying to monetize knowledge. Of course, people who make a living creating learning materials see the position rather differently.

A clash of these ideals is brewing in the United States where online learning platform Udemy has been trying to have some of its courses taken down from FreeTutorials.us, a site that makes available premium tutorials and other learning materials for free.

Early December 2017, counsel acting for Udemy and a number of its individual and corporate instructors (Maximilian Schwarzmüller, Academind GmbH, Peter Dalmaris, Futureshock Enterprises, Jose Marcial Portilla, and Pierian Data) wrote to FreeTutorials.us with DMCA takedown notice.

“Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3)(A) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (‘DMCA’), this communication serves as a notice of infringement and request for removal of certain web content available on freetutorials.us,” the letter reads.

“I hereby request that you remove or disable access to the material listed in Exhibit A in as expedient a fashion as possible. This communication does not constitute a waiver of any right to recover damages incurred by virtue of any such unauthorized activities, and such rights as well as claims for other relief are expressly retained.”

A small sample of Exhibit A

On January 10, 2018, the same law firm wrote to Cloudflare, which provides services to FreeTutorials. The DMCA notice asked Cloudflare to disable access to the same set of infringing content listed above.

It seems likely that whatever happened next wasn’t to Udemy’s satisfaction. On January 16, an attorney from the same law firm filed a DMCA subpoena at a district court in California. A DMCA subpoena can enable a copyright holder to obtain the identity of an alleged infringer without having to file a lawsuit and without needing a signature from a judge.

The subpoena was directed at Cloudflare, which provides services to FreeTutorials. The company was ordered to hand over “all identifying information identifying the owner, operator and/or contact person(s) associated with the domain www.freetutorials.us, including but not limited to name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), email address(es), Internet protocol connection records, administrative records and billing records from the time the account was established to the present.”

On January 26, the date by which Cloudflare was ordered to hand over the information, Cloudflare wrote to FreeTutorials with a somewhat late-in-the-day notification.

“We received the attached subpoena regarding freetutorials.us, a domain managed through your Cloudflare account. The subpoena requires us to provide information in our systems related to this website,” the company wrote.

“We have determined that this is a valid subpoena, and we are required to provide the requested information. In accordance with our Privacy Policy, we are informing you before we provide any of the requested subscriber information. We plan to turn over documents in response to the subpoena on January 26th, 2018, unless you intervene in the case.”

With that deadline passing last Friday, it’s safe to say that Cloudflare has complied with the subpoena as the law requires. However, TorrentFreak spoke with FreeTutorials who told us that the company doesn’t hold anything useful on them.

“No, they have nothing,” the team explained.

Noting that they’ll soon dispense with the services of Cloudflare, the team confirmed that they had received emails from Udemy and its instructors but hadn’t done a lot in response.

“How about a ‘NO’? was our answer to all the DMCA takedown requests from Udemy and its Instructors,” they added.

FreeTutorials (FTU) are affiliated with FreeCoursesOnline (FCO) and seem passionate about what they do. In common with others who distribute learning materials online, they express a belief in free education for all, irrespective of financial resources.

“We, FTU and FCO, are a group of seven members assorted as a team from different countries and cities. We are JN, SRZ aka SunRiseZone, Letap, Lihua Google Drive, Kaya, Zinnia, Faiz MeemBazooka,” a spokesperson revealed.

“We’re all members and colleagues and we also have our own daily work and business stuff to do. We have been through that phase of life when we didn’t have enough money to buy books and get tuition or even apply for a good course that we always wanted to have, so FTU & FCO are just our vision to provide Free Education For Everyone.

“We would love to change our priorities towards our current and future projects, only if we manage to get some faithful FTU’ers to join in and help us to grow together and make FTU a place it should be.”

TorrentFreak requested comment from Udemy but at the time of publication, we were yet to hear back. However, we did manage to get in touch with an Udemy instructor (see note below) who sent this takedown notice to the site in October 2017:

“I’m writing to you on behalf of SuperHuman Enterprises, LLC. You are in violation of our copyright, using our images, and linking to pirated copies of our courses. Remove them IMMEDIATELY or face severe legal action….You have 48 hours to comply,” he wrote.

The instructor says that the site had been non-responsive so now things are being taken to the next level.

“They don’t reply to takedowns, so we’ve joined a class action lawsuit against FTU lead by Udemy and a law firm specializing in this type of thing,” the instructor concludes.

Note: The person who initially gave us the quote later asked us not to cite his name. The piece has been edited to reflect that.

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