University of Minnesota Sues Website Operator for Posting Psych Test Online

In January 2011, the University of Minnesota filed suit alleging that a website operator violated copyright law by posting a widely-used psychological test online. The psychological test, which is known as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (“MMPI”), was developed to assess personality traits and help diagnose mental disorders. This test contains more than 500 statements which test takers are supposed to mark either true or false. Over the years, MMPI has become one of the most commonly used psychological tests. The lawsuit alleges that a New Zealand-based Web operator named Andrew Dobson illegally posted the statements and software that claimed to interpret the answers to two websites.

The university’s main concern is to avoid exposure of the test questions to ensure validity of responses because if test-takers have seen the test before, then any responses may be invalid. The University’s lawyer stated that the lawsuit was filed to ensure the websites did not repost the tests. In addition, if the websites cooperate, the lawsuit will likely be withdrawn.

This topic is an example of how intellectual property can be obtained and abused by a third party without legal justification. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Intellectual property is divided into two categories: (1) Industrial Property which includes patents for inventions, trademarks, industrial designs and geographical indications; and (2) Copyright which includes literary works (e.g., novels, poems and plays), films, music, artistic works (e.g., drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures) and architectural design. The legal rights related to copyright include those of performing artists in their performances, producers of phonograms in their recordings, and broadcasters in their radio and television programs.