The University of Minnesota is suing a website operator who posted its acclaimed psychological test online, saying it’s a cheat sheet for people to outwit the personality test. Mark Rotenberg, the University’ general counsel, said the school sent notices to both Kazserv — the server hosting the website which posted the test — and New Zealand-based hypnotherapist Andrew Dobson informing them they were violating copyright. “A test is no good if all of the questions and answers are on the Internet,” Rotenberg said. Rotenberg said the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory — the most widely used personality test — has “financial value,” and makes about $1 million for the University annually. Dobson has since removed the test and Rotenberg is unsure if the University will still pursue legal action. The MMPI is used in clinical settings as well as court cases and personnel issues, said James Butcher, University psychology professor emeritus. Butcher, who has taught classes about the MMPI for 40 years at the University, said the test’s strength is that it is based on empirical data and research that supports its conclusions. It’s now a “standard” in the industry. Butcher said he received dozens of emails each day from concerned psychology practitioners alerting him that the MMPI test was online. It’s a concern because the test is also used to assess defendants during court cases. If patients know the content of the test beforehand, they can undermine its validity, Butcher said. He compared knowing the contents of the MMPI to knowing that of the SAT, ACT and GRE. “Having the items of the test online basically works to destroy the test,” Butcher said. He said it is unethical to post these contents online. The person who claimed to have reported the test said in an email provided by Dobson that he wanted the test offline because it allows criminals, like sex offenders, to practice and “optimize their scores.” But Dobson and Kevin Timmerman, who sent him the software to score the MMPI as well as the test questions and scales, maintain that putting the personality assessment online does not weaken it. Timmerman said the MMPI is not a test, but a personality inventory. “There’s no right or wrong answers to this,” Timmerman said. “It’s not that you pass or fail.” In an email, Dobson said he posted the test online because he “wanted to provide a free personality test that had some juice” for anyone to use. He emphasized that he was providing a clone version of the MMPI-2, which he said was copyrighted by Timmerman, a software developer from Michigan. Timmerman said he does have copyrighted software he developed about five years ago that can score the MMPI. He claimed the test has been available online for years. But Rotenberg said “that does not justify [Dobson] using our test.” While Dobson said he doubts the legality of the University’s claims, he doesn’t have the time or resources to challenge the action. He said he was “harassed” by lawyers to remove the test, but accepts it “in good faith.” Rotenberg said the University is not interested in compensation for infringement of copyright; it just wants to protect the integrity of the test. “We’re not trying to extract some kind of large payment from him,” he said. “All we want is that the test be protected from misuse.”
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