South Korean cram school tutors deny criminal wrongdoing in leak of SAT exam papers

SEOUL (Reuters) - Tutors at South Korean test preparation schools denied criminal wrongdoing during a court hearing on Monday (May 30) involving leaked information that led to the cancellation of the United States SAT college entrance exam in South Korea in 2013.

Nine of 22 defendants, including tutors and owners of private "test-prep" schools, appeared in a Seoul court for their first hearing, charged with illegally obtaining SAT college entrance exam test papers and offering them to pupils.

Their lawyers have said their clients are not guilty of copyright infringement.

The trial began after the test's administrator, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), provided documents to the court in March following Reuters inquiries to the company about what the South Korean authorities said was a lack of cooperation.

Defence lawyers said on Monday their clients had used publicly available tests for their prep courses and their actions did not constitute copyright infringement because they had no intention of making a profit or violating fair use rules.

"Without any intent to infringe copyright, some materials were copied and used when students did not have their textbooks. It is not considered as profit-making," Mr Oh Seung Hyun, a lawyer representing five of the defendants, told the court.

Another defendant, charged with obstruction of the test administrator's business by hiring people to take SAT tests to memorise questions, did not reconstruct and distribute what his part-timers learned, Mr Oh said.

Cheating at international SAT testing sites has been a problem for years.

In May 2013, the US College Board, which owns the SAT, cancelled the sitting of the exam in South Korea because of leaked questions. It was the first time the organisation scrapped an SAT sitting across an entire country.

That came after the South Korean authorities alleged that Korean cram schools had illegally obtained SAT test papers.

However, the South Korean authorities said their investigation had been hobbled by a lack of help from the ETS.

In September 2014, South Korea's highest court requested documents from ETS. Prosecutors wanted information to verify that materials seized from the cram schools, known as hagwons, were authentic SAT exams.

Last September, a year after the request, an official with the Seoul Central District Court told Reuters that ETS had yet to respond.

In December, Reuters asked ETS test-security head Ray Nicosia about the matter. He said ETS was continuing to work with the South Korean authorities.

After that interview, the South Korean authorities said ETS promised to send the requested documents by the end of 2015.

The trial started after ETS provided the documents in March.