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Friday, October 3, 2008

"Turnitin" Gets Turned In?

Hmmm, how's that again? I'm sure we're all at least a bit familiar with the anti-plagiarism tool "turnitin." I first heard of it when completing our online orientation for the Clarion Blackboard. I think it's a great tool so teachers and professors know for sure that a paper is original in thought and content. Apparently some don't agree. I was searching copyright and schools through good ol' Google and came across an interesting article which caught my eye because of the "turnitin" aspect.

Two school districts, one in Virginia and the other in Arizona, have been requiring student papers to be turned in through "turnitin" due to an overwhelming outpouring of plagiarism. Several students decided that the aspect of the parent company to "turnitin," iParadigm, had violated copyright issues because of the archive capabilities of turnitin once a paper is submitted. As we know, turnitin uses its archives and other web documents, etc. to compare a student's work and then provide the corresponding teacher with an authenticity report. The students in question had attached a "do not archive" disclaimer to their works assuming this was enough to prevent the work being archived, however; the school districts had already signed agreements with iParadigm giving permission for the districts' students' work to be archived. In addition, each student had to create his own user profile and read the agreements previous to paper submission which include aspects of agreeing to allow work to be archived.

To make a long explanation short, the courts ruled in favor of iParadigm for several reasons. The two most obvious were simply that (1) the continual use of turnitin by these students leads to the premise that students were fully aware of agreement terms, and (2) even though the papers were turned in with a disclaimer to archive, it wasn't valid due to statements included in the click agreement the students agreed to. There are other deeper reasons, including one student's misuse of turnitin by misrepresenting himself to use his friend's college turnitin account. This is a very simplified account of what's written in the case documents which can be accessed at http://www.iparadigms.com/iParadigms_03-11-08_Opinion.pdf and I don't mean to say I understand all the technical jargon, but it seems to me that the the court rulings were fair and thought out.

It causes me to wonder why the students were so concerned with having to use turnitin. Was it really that they felt archiving their works was a major copyright infringement, or were they trying to circumvent using turnitin so it would be a bit easier to have extra "help" with term papers and such?


Steph Herfel said...


I wasn't aware of this case against Turnitin, but I think it was pretty clever of the students to come up with a copyright defense. Were they high school or college students? However, it sounds like Turnitin covered its bases legally or did they? It seems that by agreeing to the terms that Turnitin requires for submission that the students are signing over their copyrights in a sense. After all, you can't claim ignorance of law or contract you sign as a defense, but it is also hard to say if the students had much of choice. If they didn't want to get a 0 on a paper, it's like they had no choice but to agree to the conditions. However, if they really had a problem with their papers being archived, I think they should have discussed this with their teacher/professor before agreeing to the terms. It sounds like the students were just trying to get out of having to submit papers through Turnitin.

Next time I turn in paper, I have to check the fine print! Before this class, I wouldn't have thought this to be a big deal because noone is actually viewing, seeing, or using the material. Of course, I think I read in our Rubin text from 504 about how even backing up software programs can potentially be considered a copyright infringement in certain cases. The Turnitin case definitely brings up some intriguing ethical issues. After all, I think Turnitin is definitely for the greater good of preventing plagiarism and theft of others work...I am wondering if institution pay a fee to use the service, and if so, they are profiting from having a vast archive of students' work. Perhaps they should be paying all students royalties, hee, hee! How ironic that they would have a copyright case against them. I hope this is coherent...it's 2am!

vbonnie said...

Our school district is beginning to use turnitin too. I think it's a good tool. I think there will always be students (as there should be!) who want to push the envelope a bit. A little righteous indignation with a little "what can we do about it".

lorena said...

Steph, As you've noted, there are some really fine lines in this whole issue! I think even before the outset, Turnitin would have had all bases covered and its parent company, iParadigm, would have had some big legal guns for advice and counsel. I suppose the basic premise that Turnitin doesn't use the papers for further profit by proliferating them or selling them, that is the leg they can stand on. Also, right or wrong, the students being minors had less of a "leg" since the school district was the "parent" in this case.

As for the kids, they were all high school age, however; the one boy was misrepresenting himself as a college student. I never was able to establish what purpose he had for doing this or what edge he thought it would give him, but it got him into further trouble and
did not help the case in an way!

Any institution wanting to use the service does have to pay some sort of fee. I don't know how much or how often, but it is a contracted amount. Hmm, maybe you're on to something with the royalties. Think we could get a penny or two when we submit our work?!? LOL

lorena said...

Hey Valerie, That's interesting that you're in a school system using Turnitin!! Where are you? Did the district start because of issues or just thought Turnitin is a good idea? I'm just curious.

You're right about those who will be "pushers." And I agree there should be. I actually was kind of admiring the thought that these kids knew enough to even register that there could be a copyrigh issue! Of course, we don't know if a parent or even a legal professional may have prompted the thoughts, but still, it's pretty savvy for teens!