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Copyright Law Breaker?
Saturday, March 31, 2007

Some students are claiming that turnitin breaks copyright laws by storing papers submitted to the service.

I've used turnitin twice, and I'm not too fond of the it but I can see how it may be useful to teacher and university professors.

The turnitin service lets students upload their papers into a massive database for comparison against other students' papers. The idea is to catch plagiarists in the act by flagging content that is too similar (or the same) as any of the other papers submitted or whatever else turnitin thinks is a source for content (internet sites, etc.).

The first question that comes to mind is, of course, related to copyrights. The company has cleared with their lawyers to check if they are breaking any laws. So far, in the US and Canada, none. But their legal savvy will be put to test with their first copyright infringement law suit.

The is reporting that "Two McLean High School students have launched a court challenge against a California company hired by their school to catch cheaters, claiming the anti-plagiarism service violates copyright laws."

But copyright is not my whole issue (if I had one) with the service. I'm more concerned with the proprietary and confidentially of the information that it written in those papers and is just "uploaded" with no guarantee of privacy.

Of course there is a privacy statement and agreement that every user has to read and agree to before using the service, but who reads those anyway--I know I didn't. And what if the company is bought by an unscrupulous evil doer? Imagine all that private information stored in that database.

Plagiarist or not, there is probably a lot of good ideas and private information about a quite a lot of different subjects floating around just waiting to be compared.

4:40 PM | 3 comment(s) |


If Turnitin was used as designed, as a teaching tool, allowing the students to do a self-check of their papers, this lawsuit probably never would have happened. Most people are ignorant to the fact that a large percentage of the student papers that are submitted consist of words and ideas taken from other authors without proper citation or acknowledgment. The student that initiated this whole scam lawsuit is a D level student. Do you think it is fair to the honest, hardworking students when the cheaters get better grades on papers by using what someone else wrote? Wake up people!!
By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:30 PM

I agree that the tool used as a self check benefits everyone, however, the fact remains that the company has all those papers stored without paying for them.

I think the issue is very similar to what google goes through with some of the lawsuits that come their ways (some have merit, some don't).

And I understand that without storing the papers the service wouldn't be as useful, as there aren't that many things to compare thus decreasing the value of the self-check.

But, there is something in their business model that doesn't sit right with me, i.e., the company profits from everyone: schools and teachers that pay for the service (and force students to use it), and students that submit their content without remuneration.

Again, I've used the service twice and I didn't like it because I wasn't given a choice of using it or not, i.e., it was part of the process.

I wonder, though, instead of catching students cheating, why not teach them how to do research and properly source things. I mean, really teaching and not just give them a 2 page handout of the APA or MLA guide.

I'm not a teacher and I don't work turnitin. Perhaps, if I were invested in either I would have a different opinion.

Finally, as per the D students getting better grades, it will always happen--if someone wants to cheat, they will find a way to do it--but those D students will be filtered out at some point, at some higher level.

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

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