An interesting article posted on Ars Technica details a recent court case rearding the use of a website called TurnItIn.com. This situation is new to me, but as I understand it teachers require students to upload their papers to this site, which then compares the papers to available internet sources, previously uploaded student papers and the others in the batch. Any signs of plagiarism will be noted. This saves a lot of work for educators, who must rely on memory and instinct to detect plagiarized passages. The teacher can then decide to store their own students’ papers in the website’s archives, for use in detecting future cheats.
Students in Virginia and Arizona felt that storing their papers was copyright infringement, and took legal action in 2007. While there were other objections to using Turnitin, the main argument was that the students work would be stored and distributed by the website’s parent company without the students’ permission. Students were required to upload their papers, or receive a grade of 0, so they had no option but to allow their work to be shared.
The court decided that, as the papers are not used for any purpose other than comparison with other works, the website’s policy falls under fair use. Lawyers argued that “the text is not displayed or distributed to anyone.” This goes against the original accusation that the company “may send a full and complete copy of a student’s unpublished manuscript to a. . . client anywhere in the world upon request of the client, and without the student’s permission.”
Turnitin’s parent company, iParadigms, released the following statement: “Rather than infringing intellectual property rights, iParadigms is trying to protect copyright interests by students and other authors by preventing plagiarism of the very student papers that Turnitin receives.”
The courts have now agreed with iParadigms.
Have any readers used this service, either as teacher or student? Anyone have any thoughts?