Note: this blog post is the first in a multi-part series on “the law and ethics of Chegg.”
What is Chegg? I want to begin my series by describing what Chegg is and by explaining how college students use Chegg and other similar platforms to cheat on their assignments.
To the point, Chegg is a contract cheating website (see Lancaster & Cotarlan, 2021; see also Wikipedia), a kind of Napster for college exams, problem sets, and homework assignments. Instead of Mp3 music files, however, Chegg’s database contains millions of textbook and exam problems. Chegg makes money by charging its users a monthly subscription fee; in return, users are able to look up the answers to their assignments in Chegg’s database and then turn in those answers as their own. (Chegg subscriptions start at $14.95 a month.) In other words, students use Chegg to cheat.
Whether this business model is “ethical” or not I will leave for others to decide. Rest assured, I will return to the moral question in a future post; in the meantime, however, I want to ask a more practical question: Is Chegg’s business model legal? Specifically, can an online contract-cheating platform like Chegg give rise to a civil claim for common law fraud or even to a criminal prosecution for “wire fraud” under federal law?
I will devote my next few posts to these legal and ethical questions by revisiting the infamous College Admissions Bribery Scandal of 2019-2020, when dozens of rich and powerful parents, like the actress Felicity Huffman, went to jail for facilitating cheating on college entrance examinations for their children (by bribing a third party to take the entrance exams for them). Spoiler alert: my argument will be as follows: if it’s illegal to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams in order to fraudulently gain admission into a college, then it should also be illegal to use Chegg in order to cheat on college exams and homework assignments after you are already enrolled in college. Later, I will explain why Chegg’s CEO and board members (and many of Chegg’s users as well) should be criminally prosecuted for “wire fraud.”
Thomas Lancaster and Codrin Cotarlan. 2021. Contract cheating by STEM students through a file sharing website: a Covid-19 pandemic perspective. International Journal for Educational Integrity, Vol. 17, Article #3, pp. 1-16, available here.
Wikipedia. 2021. Entry for “Chegg”, available here.