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So, like, what if you turned Turnitin in to Turnitin? Whoa!
April 2, 2007 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Two students sue Turnitin for copyright violations. "All of these kids are essentially straight-A students, and they have no interest in plagiarizing," said Robert A. Vanderhye, a McLean attorney representing the students pro bono. "The problem with [Turnitin] is the archiving of the documents. They are violating a right these students have to be in control of their own property." (via) (obligatory link to the Best. Thread. Ever)
posted by Horace Rumpole (166 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is excellent.
posted by serazin at 10:41 AM on April 2, 2007


Eh. Schools will just require students to consent to being put in the database now.
posted by footnote at 10:43 AM on April 2, 2007


The only possible out here is that the copyright in the students' essays really belongs to the school, and that the school granted permission to the anti-plagiarism guys to use the essays as part of a corpus of texts (which is clearly economic exploitation).

In the absence of that it's pretty open and shut although since the commercial value of the individual essays is likely to be very small, it's hard to imagine there will be much money in it.

However it will probably stop Turnitin doing this and force them to delete the essays they have already archived.
posted by unSane at 10:43 AM on April 2, 2007


I was going to say the same thing as footnote, but then I realized that it was a high school in question. I think a public secondary school would have a hard time requiring consent for a mandatory class like English. Although they might be able to do it for, say, people who register for special Advanced Placement classes.
posted by grouse at 10:47 AM on April 2, 2007


What copyright violation? They have the papers in a DB and are using them for their own purpose. It's not like they republish.
posted by DU at 10:48 AM on April 2, 2007


This is an argument I've been making with a faculty friend of mine for a while. While (theoretically) I might not have a problem with submitting my work to be checked, I definitely have a problem with the school demanding that I grant a right of use to a third party in order to pass the course.
posted by djfiander at 10:48 AM on April 2, 2007


"You can't take a person's work and run it through a computer and make an honest person out of them," Wade said. "My son's major objection is that he does not cheat, and this assumes he does.'

Guilty.
posted by DU at 10:48 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I threw a fit about this when my undergrad program tried to force students in a class to use this. Among many good reasons why this is a bad idea, what happens when Turnitin goes under and they sell all these essays to an essay mill?
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:48 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yee haw! I've always had a 'bad feeling' about these turnitin guys, ever since they tried this new shiny thing when I was in high school ages ago. Fuck 'em. (Although interestingly enough it did turn up web-based copy/pasting in students' turned-in assignments.)

Interestingly enough I was watching an interview on the Daily Show of this guy who has a show called 'To Catch A Predator'—where they bait would-be child molesters and record them while they saunter in to the rendezvous point… and I had the exact same feeling of unease—that something about it just turns me off, but I can't reasonably articulate my opposition to it.

I maintain that something's icky about turnitin, but I can't put it in rational terms.
posted by Firas at 10:49 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm a huge fan of this lawsuit. It's abhorrent to me that Turnitin is able to turn a profit off of the work of high school kids. I also resent the increasingly prevalent attitude of educators that kids are cheating. I was forced to sign a statement before every University exam stating that I'd "neither given nor received any unauthorized assistance." Total bullshit.
posted by god hates math at 10:49 AM on April 2, 2007



What copyright violation? They have the papers in a DB and are using them for their own purpose. It's not like they republish.


What copyright violation? I'm just copying my friend's CD. It's in a database, and I'm using it for my own purpose. It's not like I'm republishing.
posted by god hates math at 10:51 AM on April 2, 2007 [4 favorites]


Best Thread Ever? I thought the blogger guy was a jackass.
posted by delmoi at 10:55 AM on April 2, 2007


What copyright violation? They have the papers in a DB and are using them for their own purpose.

Their purpose is to make money. At least in god hates math's case, it's not for profit. But Turnitin is definitely making money from other people's hard work.
posted by oaf at 10:55 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


This Turnitin’s legal reasoning, as found here.

Copyright
The archival of a submitted work is perhaps the most legally sensitive aspect of the TURNITIN system. If a student submits a work for evaluation and archival, or clearly agrees to the archival of a work, there is no issue. Otherwise, the archival raises the issue of whether the conversion of a work to electronic form, and maintenance of it in a database, constitutes a “fair use” of the work.

Use of a work for non-profit educational purposes is presumptively fair, under most circumstances. 17 U.S.C. § 107. However, although the overall purpose of creating a database of student works is to increase the efficacy of the TURNITIN plagiarism detection system, the system is provided to institutions on a for-profit basis, and is therefore commercial in nature.

Commercial use of a work may still be “fair use” under U.S. Copyright Law (17 U.S.C. §107), especially when less than the entire work is being used, and/or the use does not “materially impair the marketability of the work which is copied.” Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 566-67 (1985). Here, the actual work is used by the TURNITIN system only as a reference, for purposes of creating a separate work, the digital “fingerprint”. If there is a match between a submitted work and fingerprinted portions of an archived student work, only that matching text is highlighted in the originality report.

The identification of a textual match between documents relays a fact, which is not protected from disclosure by the Copyright laws. 17 U.S.C. § 102(b). Where there is no way to express the fact in question except by copying of the underlying material, the fact and the portion of the material representing it are said to have “merged”, excluding the material itself from the ambit of copyright protection. Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 349 (1991); Harper & Row Publishers, supra at 556; Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int’l, Inc., 293 F.3d 791 (9th Cir., June 7, 2002). Because one cannot identify a passage as having been copied without matching it to the material that was putatively copied from, display of the matching material is not prohibited by copyright.

No other portions of the archived work are displayed, used, published, distributed or further copied without prior author consent. Compare, A&M Records, et al. v. Napster, at 1015 and 1019 (distribution of a copied work to the public without the copyright holder’s consent implies that the copyright in the copied material may have been infringed). As such, the archival does not publish the work as a whole, or otherwise impinge on the author’s ability to exploit the work commercially. Because the “primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors but ‘[to] promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts” (Veeck, supra as reported at 2002 U.S. App.LEXIS 10963, *25), the minimal use of a student’s work to ferret out plagiarism in others works, without making the work itself available to the public, is a fair use that does not infringe any copyright which may be present in the archived work.

posted by found missing at 10:56 AM on April 2, 2007


What copyright violation? I'm just copying my friend's CD. It's in a database, and I'm using it for my own purpose. It's not like I'm republishing.

Yes, exactly my point. The "sharers" in that case do have a point, the problem is that the sharing one-by-one (which is entirely legal, AFAIK) gets out of hand and soon everyone has a copy. Where are the multiple copies of student papers from turnitin?
posted by DU at 10:59 AM on April 2, 2007


found missing—that reasoning actually makes sense to me… sounds a bit like Google Books' defense.
posted by Firas at 10:59 AM on April 2, 2007


What copyright violation? They have the papers in a DB and are using them for their own purpose. It's not like they republish. -- DU

It doesn't matter what they do with it, the school has no right to give a copy to turnitin to make a profit off of in the first place. That's the issue here, that some company is profiting off of other people's work without compensation, and without clearance. While a collage may require clearance, where does a public highschool get that right?

Guilty. -- DU

Moron.
posted by delmoi at 10:59 AM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


But Turnitin is definitely making money from other people's hard work.

I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. The students aren't digging holes that Turnitin is using for storage. They are *cataloging* work, not profiting directly from it.
posted by DU at 11:01 AM on April 2, 2007


Yes, exactly my point. The "sharers" in that case do have a point, the problem is that the sharing one-by-one (which is entirely legal, AFAIK) gets out of hand and soon everyone has a copy. Where are the multiple copies of student papers from turnitin? -- DU

What the hell does any of that have to do with copyright law? And how is it even relevant to this case? People copying CDs between eachother are not making a profit, while turnitin is.
posted by delmoi at 11:02 AM on April 2, 2007


Their purpose is to make money. At least in god hates math's case, it's not for profit. But Turnitin is definitely making money from other people's hard work.

Yeah, as soon as I hit post, I thought about that. Oops.

the school has no right to give a copy to turnitin to make a profit off of in the first place.

Exactly right. That's the real crux of the issue. Exploiting high school students for profit = not cool.

posted by god hates math at 11:03 AM on April 2, 2007


People copying CDs between eachother are not making a profit, while turnitin is.

....but not from republishing copyrighted material.
posted by DU at 11:04 AM on April 2, 2007


I've had a couple of classes now that required you to sign off as consenting for your work to be checked against online databases to catch cheating. Never gave it much thought (though I realize that's getting into the "They came for the plagiarists..." territory).
At least I'm clever when I steal ideas— I cite the fuck out of them!
posted by klangklangston at 11:04 AM on April 2, 2007


The "sharers" in that case do have a point, the problem is that the sharing one-by-one (which is entirely legal, AFAIK) gets out of hand and soon everyone has a copy.

It's okay to borrow and listen to a CD, but copyright laws prevent you from making a copy of a borrowed CD. Just as copyright laws should prevent the school from giving a copy of a student's paper to a company.
posted by peeedro at 11:06 AM on April 2, 2007


....but not from republishing copyrighted material.

Copyright law prevents reproduction, so transmitting a copy to a third party does not seem legal.
posted by peeedro at 11:07 AM on April 2, 2007


If a student submits a work for evaluation and archival, or clearly agrees to the archival of a work, there is no issue.

It's the school and its representatives/agents who submit the work. I suppose (as stated above) in some cases students are asked to consent...but, I agree with djfiander: "I definitely have a problem with the school demanding that I grant a right of use to a third party in order to pass the course."

This case along with the controversial Google Book Search situation each raise interesting questions about copyright law in an era of 'digital' copies of various media, especially as applied to the concept of what constitutes fair use.
posted by ericb at 11:08 AM on April 2, 2007


I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. The students aren't digging holes that Turnitin is using for storage. They are *cataloging* work, not profiting directly from it.

Wrong. Their business model relies on the work in question. They are profiting directly from it.
posted by oaf at 11:09 AM on April 2, 2007


My immediate analysis is that Turnitin's use is (a) by default authorized by the students, and (b) an obvious fair use.

Start with authorization. When you turn in a paper, the normal expectation is that the professor can compare it with other papers to see whether it's been copied, can make copies (e.g. to move it from one computer to another), and can hang on to a copy of it. Having a third-party service like Turnitin carry out those functions doesn't change that basic assumption. Of course, a student could make clear that she was withholding permission. That raises the question of whether a school could require that a student grant permission; that's a moderately difficult question, and could depend on such things as whether it's a public or private school, what age the students are, what the parents say, etc.

But that still leaves fair use. And I see Turnitin's use as fair, no matter what the students think. Consider the statutory "four factors":

(1) The purpose and character of the use. Here, Turnitin is a commercial entity, but keep in mind that it's working on behalf of teachers. This is not unlike the VCR; Sony was in the business of selling VCRs, but those devices enabled consumers to make fair uses by time-shifting. Thus, commercial use isn't determinative. Is the use transformative? Yes and no. Yes because the database format and index are very different from a discursive paper; no because there may not be any creativity going into the format. Call this factor a draw.

(2) The nature of the copyrighted work. The papers are unpublished, which is good for the students, but it's not as though Turnitin is actually publishing the papers. The papers are also being submitted in the context of a class, so Turnitin isn't fundamentally altering that context. The papers are presumably somewhat factual (facts aren't copyrightable), but contain a lot of original expression (original expression is). The students win this factor, but it never counts for much.

(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion taken. Turnitin could say that it doesn't take much, since it's just indexing. But, really, it's making complete copies of the entire papers. Turnitin's better argument is that it takes no more than necessary to prevent cheating by copying papers in its database. Students win this factor, too, but not powerfully.

(4) The effect on the market for the work. There is no (legitimate) market for plagiarism on school papers. The students aren't losing any revenue from Turnitin's use, and even if Turnitin did cost them money (because people will no longer pay to copy their papers), that loss wouldn't be a loss appropriately chargeable to their copyright interest. You can't count the fact that the students could (if it weren't fair use) license Turnitin and charge money; finding a market based on selling the right is circular when you're trying to decide whether there's a right in the first place. Arguably, Turnitin helps develop a market because it deters unauthorized copying. Thus, students would be freer to sell their papers for other uses without fears that the papers would also be used for plagiarism. This factor is an out-of-the-park win for Turnitin.

Bottom line: yes, Turnitin makes money in a way that's connected to students' creativity. But it's not the sort of money-making that copyright protects.
posted by grimmelm at 11:12 AM on April 2, 2007


I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. The students aren't digging holes that Turnitin is using for storage. They are *cataloging* work, not profiting directly from it.

Turnitin pricing models.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:13 AM on April 2, 2007


The whole thing seems goofy, but then I spend much of my time trying desperately to give my intellectual-product away. Unless you're talking about bona fide original research, I really rather doubt that the student owns the paper in any case, any more than the student owns his or her answers to an exam.

I don't know how turnitin meshes with FERPA, but that would be my only real concern; I don't think it's proper to broadcast a student's particularly crappy paper for turnitin's people to ridicule. That and it's probably not worth the time it takes to use, and I prefer getting papers on paper since that avoids "But I sent it yesterday!!" bullshit.

I also resent the increasingly prevalent attitude of educators that kids are cheating.

And I resent the increase in cheating.

I was forced to sign a statement before every University exam stating that I'd "neither given nor received any unauthorized assistance." Total bullshit.

I had a pledge like that too. But the honor system at Virginia was basically functional, so all of my exams were unproctored and it was common for people to leave the room and go sit on the Lawn to take their exam.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:14 AM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Well, I certainly hope they win thier case.
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:15 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Commercial use of a work may still be 'fair use'…when…the use does not 'materially impair the marketability of the work which is copied.'"

See, having your papers included in the Turnitin database makes them worthless for reselling to essay-mill websites. Marketability: impaired!

Seriously though, these kids are right. And there's something slimy about surreptitiously coercing kids into helping rat out other kids. For a profit.
posted by adamrice at 11:15 AM on April 2, 2007


I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous. The students aren't digging holes that Turnitin is using for storage. They are *cataloging* work, not profiting directly from it. -- DU

Sure, and those MP3 FTP sites that cropped up in the late 90s were just cataloging the waveforms! And Napster was just cataloging IP addresses!

But seriously, even without the inapplicable metaphor of 'digging holes' your comment is nonsense. Cataloging something and profiting off of it are not mutually exclusive, you can easily do both. Turnitin's value is derived from the works stored in their corpus. Without the work, they lose value. If turnitin had no papers in it's database, it would not have any value whatsoever. Therefore, they are profiting off of peoples work. If you want to split hairs and come up with arbitrary divisions you might be able to claim that they are not profiting "directly" from the work, but that's like saying napster didn't profit "directly" from the pirated content on it's network, but rather the subscription fees or advertising or however it made money (I forget). The profit comes from the copies of the work it stores.

Also, I believe turnitin will return copies of the work if there is a plagerism "hit", so if you knew a few words from an essay, you could pull it up from their system.
posted by delmoi at 11:16 AM on April 2, 2007


The students aren't losing any revenue from Turnitin's use...

Except the revenue they could make from selling their paper's on the internet.
posted by peeedro at 11:16 AM on April 2, 2007


Is this some sort of 'slippery slope' argument? I don't see how turnitin.com harms the ability of a student to commercially market their wonderfully crafted essays and book reports. That is the distinction between turnitin.com and your run of the mill copyright violation.
posted by anthill at 11:18 AM on April 2, 2007


1. Include in your paper "© All Rights Reserved" (I believe this is actually implicit, but nonetheless...)
2. Wait for Turnitin to rape your IP rights and sue them
3. Profit!

This seems like a workable plan, but easily thwarted if the school forces you to sign away your rights to the work when you hand it in. Personally, at least for public schools, I think that when you hand in your work it should automatically be added to the public domain. Companies like Turnitin would be welcome to index the papers, but no single company should have an advantage. Anyone could do it if they felt like running the service.
posted by mullingitover at 11:18 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ultimately, Turnitin does with essays what CDDB/Gracenote & FreeDB do with CDs. They don't own the copyright on the songs, nor do they ask for permission. Instead, they only store a hash or fingerprint (Turnitin's term). Gracenote profits from the cataloging/matching service they provide, and as far as I know neither CDDB/Gracenote nor FreeDB kick any money back to the copyright holders.

If Turnitin is a copyright violation, then so are CDDB/Gracenote and FreeDB. People's dislike of Turnitin has much more to do with it being their work that gets used, I suspect, than anything to do with the business model per se. That and the prospect of getting caught/getting caught despite one's innocence/being presumed guilty. Personally, I only buy the 'being presumed guilty' argument, as a presumption of academic dishonesty tends to poison the learning environment.

Personally I think it's a necessary evil. The internet makes it much easier to cheat, and therefore internet-based solutions must be developed to combat it. Otherwise, the value of every degree becomes suspect, unless schools resort to having all work done in class or other such extreme measures.
posted by jedicus at 11:19 AM on April 2, 2007


peeedro, most schools already explicitly state that work handed in for class must not have been published elsewhere previously, i.e. you actually have to write it for the course. So those that have published work on the internet before handing it in to class are already burned.

And if you publish/sell/whatever your work on the internet after you've gotten your marked paper back from your teacher, then what does turnitin.com care? How will they prevent you from making money? If anything, they'll catch the people who then download your work and try to pass it off as their own.
posted by anthill at 11:21 AM on April 2, 2007


Having a third-party service like Turnitin carry out those functions doesn't change that basic assumption.

Except when you consider that before Turnitin, the scope of such actions by an instructor was very limited. Now, you can compare it to anything that has ever been submitted by anyone since Turnitin started doing business.

on #4:
This factor is an out-of-the-park win for Turnitin.

It would be if Turnitin didn't charge money, or paid the students whose work was submitted. Otherwise, not really.

I have to suspect, given what I've read about Turnitin, that a "hit" (or however it presents results to you) on a paper is more likely to be a mistake on Turnitin's part than an actual act of plagiarism. Examples of plagiarism involving large parts of other people's papers, from the real-world examples I've seen, are really obvious.
posted by oaf at 11:21 AM on April 2, 2007


....but not from republishing copyrighted material.

If turnitin did not "republish" the material, it would be impossible to prove a plagiarism case at a University, therefore, it must republish if there is a "hit"
posted by delmoi at 11:21 AM on April 2, 2007


Let me provide a counter point to those arguing against turnitin. (To be clear, I don't use that or any matching service.)

As a professor I read many student papers every semester. Doing this allows me to create a mental catalog of student tendencies in writing (which I sometimes transcribe into notes on teaching and grading) that informs a frame of reference for future teaching and grading. (For example, this semester it has come to my attention that students tend to use 'if' when they mean 'whether.' So, now I'm looking for instances of misuses of 'if.' Something I hadn't systematically done before.) My ability to teach and grade well are my main income generating assets. So, in a sense, I'm doing something very much like you claim turnitin is doing. They use the work of students to inform and improve their ability to detect plagiarism and thus make money detecting plagiarism. I use the work of my students to inform and improve my ability to teach and thus make money teaching.

Now, turnitin keeps a full copy of the papers, while obviously I don't (my memory isn't nearly so good as a computer's). But surely it's their purpose and use of the papers that putatively violates student's rights, not merely archiving the papers. So, how is what I do significantly different from what turnitin does?
posted by oddman at 11:22 AM on April 2, 2007


Note: if I'm wrong and Turnitin does store and reproduce the entire essay, then my argument is flawed. Turnitin should, in my opinion, either only store the hash or it should only reproduce a few excerpts in order to demonstrate plagiarism. Those small excerpts would constitute a small fraction of the work and thus likely be covered by fair use.

I should also add that I think it's too bad that a system like this is used for catching cheaters instead of being used to provide, say, a massive database for AI research. Alas.

posted by jedicus at 11:24 AM on April 2, 2007


I'd be more worried about these essays being used against you, I'd hate to be held by homeland security because what I wrote in university 10 years earlier was politically controversial. There is just way too much information being put into databases now a days.

I think a good solution that respects privacy is allowing students to have their writings compared but after that not stored, in a sense to opt out. Given how little the average student seems to care about privacy (judging by the stuff people will put on myspace), I'd suspect only a tiny percentage would bother.
posted by bobo123 at 11:24 AM on April 2, 2007


Unless you're talking about bona fide original research, I really rather doubt that the student owns the paper in any case, any more than the student owns his or her answers to an exam.

That's fine, because the student owns both of these.
posted by oaf at 11:25 AM on April 2, 2007


Personally, at least for public schools, I think that when you hand in your work it should automatically be added to the public domain.

Yeah, because the educational textbook and materials market is just starving for content. Come on. Putting students' work in the PD by default is villiany.

jedicus: turnitin can still compare to online stuff without retaining turned-in stuff.
posted by Firas at 11:25 AM on April 2, 2007


I think a good solution that respects privacy is allowing students to have their writings compared but after that not stored, in a sense to opt out.

While I would agree there probably ought to be an opt-out option (at least in a perfect world), I think having one actually opens the door for the worst offenders, namely the systematic cheaters. The classic example is the fraternity or sorority that keeps old essays and exams, particularly ones that scored well. All they would have to do is submit one under the opt-out, observe that it did well and wasn't a plagiarism hit, and then every semester that same essay could be reused, opting out each time. Provided the manual grading was done by a new TA each semester, no one would ever be the wiser.
posted by jedicus at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2007


delmoi, napster and turnitin.com are very different. (I use turnitin.com as a teaching assistant).

I can't just type in "to be or not to be" and download a bunch of student essays, Napster-style. The only parts of papers that I see are words/sentences of text that are common to the paper my students hand in to me and the paper that they're (perhaps) plagiarizing from. It's much less than what's considered 'fair use', such as a 10 second clip from a TV show.

Now, where things do get strange is that I can request that a teacher sends me a copy of a suspect paper... which is a slow process, but may eventually land me with the full text of another student's paper.
posted by anthill at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2007


how is what I do significantly different from what turnitin does?

What is in your brain is not fixed in a tangible medium, and isn't a copy of the essay.
posted by oaf at 11:29 AM on April 2, 2007


Bottom line: yes, Turnitin makes money in a way that's connected to students' creativity. But it's not the sort of money-making that copyright protects.-- grimmelm

You just said that the students won three of the four statutory factors. And anyway, there's nothing in copyright law that prevents you from selling your work to other people who need to plagiarize something. That market may not be "legitimate" but it's not illegal.

There is plenty of precedent for people stopping "fair use" that they simply don't like, regardless of how it effects the market. If the 4th statutory factor you mentioned were sufficient it would be legal to reproduce every book and or magazine article that was out of print.
posted by delmoi at 11:31 AM on April 2, 2007


I better take a second to let my friend the freshman-communications instructor know about this in case it doesn't come up during departmental faculty bull sessions or something. He's never mentioned turnitin, but he has to worry about these kids using unsourced material, and I think he talks to the Engish-department faculty some as well -- it's a fairly small school.
posted by pax digita at 11:42 AM on April 2, 2007


I have no comment on the propreity of the lawsuit but chortle when the father or whoever says that the school, ie, teachers, ought instead focus upon teaching the students not to cheat.
I had never thought of that good idea. teachers should tell the students that cheatiign is not a good thing.
posted by Postroad at 11:47 AM on April 2, 2007


I'm suing anyone who reads this comment.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:48 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


In at least half of my high-school (public high-school in Texas) classes, for turning in essays we used turn-it-in. Like a lot of the people here, I objected to it-- but there was nothing I could do, because we were absolutely required to sign up for the service. I never had the option to object to it-- and basically the unspoken law stated that if we did object, we were clearly in need of being subjected to extra scrutiny.

While Turn-it-in does only archive other student papers, here's what happens when a student work is run through that database-- when I submit my paper, it takes about 5 minutes to recieve a "receipt" of that paper, which all evidences of supposed plagiarism are noted out. This includes citations and commonly used phrases, and I, a student who never plagiarized and never will (it is against my moral code) would rarely get a plagiarism rating below 30%--that is to say that turn-it-in thought I plagiarised a third of my paper.

Most of that was citation, quotes from books and what not, but there was also a good amount of sentences I had written that were also in the database somewhere else, even if not in the same wording, but similar wording.

I always thought the service to be awful-- however, in it's support, almost the entire senior class before ours (for a 2 page paper, stupidly enough) decided to plagiarize a single paper-- turn-it-in didn't catch them, the teacher did. She knew these kids writing style and the similarity of the essays between each other tipped her off.

Now for schools to pay for a service that is useless, in my mind, is absolutely horrid--we were already aching for money in other areas (we had no art supplies and the likes, the only things that really got funding were the sports and the band)--but I claim it is useless for two different reasons-- in high school, anybody who would plagiarize is generally not intelligent enough to hide it well, and a teacher can easily identify this, and should be able to.

I absolutely hope this lawsuit goes through-- I hate turn-it-in because with them, we're always guilty until proven innocent. It adds an entire layer of distrust between the faculty and the students, and leaves an entire level of respect out to dry. The only time I have felt belittled as a student was with mandatory turn-it-in: the only type.
posted by stresstwig at 11:52 AM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


A perhaps important point: I TA'd for a class in the fall that used turnitin.com, and the students, in most cases, submitted their papers directly to turnitin.com themselves. In some of the comments above, it seemed as though commentors were presuming that the students handed work to the teachers, and that there was a legal question about whether the teacher had the right to then submit the work to turnitin.com. But in nearly all cases, I never saw the work until turnitin.com already had it--there were a few cases were the student had trouble submitting the file electronically and sent it to me to submit.

Of course, there is still a question about whether the database of papers is/should be legal. I don't have a view about that; though I will say that though I didn't catch any cheaters with the service, but I found it to be a useful tool for improving student writing, by seeing at a glance which students were not rephrasing ideas from source material with enough skill such that the turnitin robot flagged it as plagarization.
posted by Kwine at 11:54 AM on April 2, 2007


Read your student handbook. Twenty years ago in Canada it was well known amongst students that you didn't hold the rights on the work you submitted at University. It was all there in black and white in the student handbook. It was actually one of the first items in mine.

This why most of my engineering buddies would always say that they would only work on their worst ideas while at school.
posted by srboisvert at 11:58 AM on April 2, 2007


Finally young people are doing something I agree with! Go git 'em kids!

I'll bet oddman does a better job of detecting plagiarism than turnitin does, because he is taking the time to get to know his students and their work. Turnitin=lazy professor's solution, IMO.
posted by Mister_A at 11:59 AM on April 2, 2007


I'd be more worried about these essays being used against you, I'd hate to be held by homeland security because what I wrote in university 10 years earlier was politically controversial. There is just way too much information being put into databases now a days.

Yes, that is I think what bothers people the most about this, that their work is being stored indefinitely without their consent. What's to prevent some government from subpoenaing some essay who knows when? It may not be realistic, but it might bother some people.
posted by delmoi at 12:07 PM on April 2, 2007


I've got no problem with the basic idea of Turnitin, but the fact is, they're using these kids' papers to increase the value of their for-profit service, and not compensating them in any way. I don't know if that's an actual violation of copyright law--they seem to make a pretty good argument that what they do counts as fair use--but it does seem at least a little sleazy and unethical. If you make a profit from work that someone does, I think they deserve a share of it.
posted by moss at 12:09 PM on April 2, 2007


Most of that was citation, quotes from books and what not, but there was also a good amount of sentences I had written that were also in the database somewhere else, even if not in the same wording, but similar wording.

If this is true, the only way to get a decently low plagiarism score would be to turn in a paper that's not in English.
posted by oaf at 12:09 PM on April 2, 2007


DU -- you misunderstand copyright law.

TurnItIn does not need to republish.

They COPIED the copyrighted work to get it into their database. That copy is NOT a fair use, under current definition of that nebulous term.

This is straightforward copyright violation on their part (and a massive one, at that). Barring a change in the way the term fair use is defined, this service is illegal.

Republishing, sharing, commercial gain -- none of these things are required to have a violation of copyright. Barring fair use exceptions, a copyright holder gets exclusive right to decide how their work is copied. A copy is required for TurnItIn to exist. (And they plan to make money of of that violated copyright, and they don't give you any reassurances about how they intend to use our pirated essay).

Copyright violation, plain and simple.
posted by teece at 12:15 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


And Napster was just cataloging IP addresses!

Actually, that is indeed the case. The courts were wrong. (IMO, of course)

It would be like forcing VoIP providers to shut down because someone MIGHT play a copyrighted song over the telephone. The VoIP provider has to maintain this connection between the two entities, so therefore it has to catalog the current IP's of those two entities. And I'm certain Vonage or Yahoo Voice or any other VoIP option includes using central servers to matchmake and negotiate the connection.

What data is transmitted via that connection is the parties' responsibility, not the connecting agent. Should Yahoo Messenger be outlawed because someone could holdup a copy of the new Harry Potter to their webcam and you could read it FOR FREE?!!?!?

This goes along with the argument that the .mp3 on your hard drive is actually just a very very very very long binary integer.

We are still a long, long, LONG way from really grokking what copyright and intellectual property rights are in the digital age.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2007


jedicus: Turnitin can call what they store whatever they want, but they need to have the whole text of each submitted paper stored in some form in order to match strings of words, which is what their software does. They don't seem to show the entire paper to users, but they are still storing and profiting from the entire paper. It may be that the selections displayed to users fall under fair use, but the use of the entire paper by Turnitin wouldn't appear to be. This isn't the same thing that CDDB, etc do, because they don't store enough data to reproduce the entire CD, while Turnitin must necessarily store the entire paper.

The use of Turnitin was a big issue at my school a few years ago, specifically because there was no option to opt out of Turnitin's archiving, which caused students to be concerned about their IP being used for profit (leaving aside all the other issues).
posted by ssg at 12:26 PM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


So I figured out why turnitin pisses me off so much: it basically says, "If you want to prove you're not cheating (and you must), we'll keep your work afterward and make money off it."

So let me get this straight:
1) I do the work
2) Which I must give to them
3) They make money from it

This is a transformation of my work from learning exercise to financial asset, and for no benefit to me.

Some notes on this observation:
a) I realize the actual asset value of my paper is quite small, especially once turnitin gets a hold of it. My objections are qualitative, not quantitative. Besides, you can get rich skimming fractions of a penny off of repeated bank transactions: limited but repeated wrongdoing is cumulative.

b) This is sharply distinct from Google. Google wants to index works that are already commercial assets. It's not the indexing that bothers me, it's the conversion of my scholastic exercise into a market product. I'm not making a copyright argument here.

c) This is much like my objection to professors that force their classes to buy books that professor has written. It takes the power difference inherit in education and leverages it for the profit of the more powerful party.

d) This all is independent of other objections I have, of course. They must be crazy if they think I'm going to submit the work I do for my business classes.
posted by Richard Daly at 12:33 PM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


A perhaps important point: I TA'd for a class in the fall that used turnitin.com, and the students, in most cases, submitted their papers directly to turnitin.com themselves.

This puts an interesting twist on things: I'm sure TurnItIn puts up a little clicky box saying you give them all the rights they want when you submit the paper. Assuming that is a legally binding contract (which it should NOT be, but current thinking seems to be that a piece of shrink-wrap plastic or a radio-button on a computer screen are exactly the same as a signed legal document), TurnItIn would be in the clear (although still a lame, unethical service). Any paper submitted to TurnItIn by other than the copyright holder would be illegal to archive, though.

But the students should then just sue the school, as the school has no right to require the students to give away their copyright to a for-profit company.
posted by teece at 12:33 PM on April 2, 2007


This goes along with the argument that the .mp3 on your hard drive is actually just a very very very very long binary integer.

...or that a record is just a particular collection of atoms that happen to be in a certain shape. You can make a daft, pointless analysis of works in any medium.
posted by moss at 12:35 PM on April 2, 2007


When I was in grade school, it was punishment to copy passages out of the encyclopedia, not vice versa.
posted by smackfu at 12:37 PM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


oh, and e) This is why the idea of school work as a "work for hire" pisses me off. School-work isn't labor and school isn't an apprenticeship.
posted by Richard Daly at 12:42 PM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Delmoi: You just said that the students won three of the four statutory factors.

Fair use isn't a majority vote; those who copy can win by winning any one of the factors decisively enough. A sufficiently transformative parody is fair use pretty much no matter how much it does to the market value of the work and how much it copies. Same thing in reverse for the fourth factor. You can think of fair use as having a number of different cores. Being within any one of them is sufficient to win.

There is plenty of precedent for people stopping "fair use" that they simply don't like, regardless of how it effects the market. If the 4th statutory factor you mentioned were sufficient it would be legal to reproduce every book and or magazine article that was out of print.

No, because those reproductions would reduce the market for bringing them back into print. A market that the author isn't currently exploiting but could still counts.
posted by grimmelm at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2007


Curiously, this is kind of all similar to the Weather Channel- a for-profit company that sells (at a minimum, advertising) their product using materials gathered entirely from resources they did not pay for- in this case, government and NOAA data. I would venture most new networks use some kind of private climatology service that uses this same public resource as well.

The issue, which I actually think would make a fascinating court case, is if materials submitted by students into the public school system counts as a voluntary offering of their work into the public domain.

When I was at NYU, which is a private college, the student admissions forms specifically noted rules governing student works- that they are the property of the student but grant universal permission to the school for use in promotional and/or administrative purposes. NYU also has a contract with one of these anti-plagiarism databases. In other words, if there's an inherent rule allowing this for a private school maybe it's implicit for public schools.

That all said, I'm not sure why everyone's so upset about these kids teaching anyway. If anything, they'll face the penalty for not actually learning, since as we all know everything you are taught in the public school system is vital information that will affect your life in the most relevant of ways.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:45 PM on April 2, 2007


It's not the indexing that bothers me, it's the conversion of my scholastic exercise into a market product. I'm not making a copyright argument here.

I've always had a skeptical opinion of the whole European 'droits de l'auteur' thing, but I must admit that this is a good example where I'd personally invoke moral rights to my work regardless of any copyright issue. (A problem with this particular discussion is that the stakes are so low; nobody's random midterm paper in HS or (in most of) College is actually worth much fuss in the end.)
posted by Firas at 12:46 PM on April 2, 2007


This is much like my objection to professors that force their classes to buy books that professor has written. It takes the power difference inherit in education and leverages it for the profit of the more powerful party.

Sometimes the professor's book is actually the best one.
posted by oaf at 12:51 PM on April 2, 2007


No, because those reproductions would reduce the market for bringing them back into print. A market that the author isn't currently exploiting but could still counts.

Well, the existance of turnitin.com certanly affects the ability for students to create their own, volentary, anti-plagerism system, does it not?

Suppose students who felt that turnitin.com was unfair and obnoxious, and wanted to create something else by appealing to other students over the internet to collect all their papers and build a new, open-source version of turnitin. Checking against the database would cost the school a couple dollars, but students would have the option of adding their material to the database wouldn't be charged, or might even get a 20¢ rebate above the cost.

If pirating out of print works reduces the market for bringing it back into print, then snapping up plagiarism detection rights without compensation reduces the market for selling plagiarism detection rights to some other entity. The practicality of a market has never stopped anyone from claiming that market right. For example, the rights to old ROMs and obsolete software is protected, even though is no practical chance the things would ever really be sold again.
posted by delmoi at 12:58 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Way back in '99 and 2000 there were a ton of lawsuits/legislation in direct response to the 'student notes' websites that encouraged students to post class notes online. The general upshot, as I remember it, was a lot of state-level legislation created to govern this kind of thing (reuse of student produced, class-related materials)

I am left wondering if the plaintiffs reside in states with those laws already on the books ...
posted by bhance at 1:00 PM on April 2, 2007


A problem with this particular discussion is that the stakes are so low

Thank you. Turnitin seems to be a solution to a grading problem rather than an educational one.

Even if it were a few $100/month, I'd rather the school money go to a general equipment fund.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:06 PM on April 2, 2007


Firas A problem with this particular discussion is that the stakes are so low; nobody's random midterm paper in HS or (in most of) College is actually worth much fuss in the end.

Some of the papers must be valuable or turnitin wouldn't bother storing and searching them. Of course, turnitin doesnt know which of its papers will be the lucky lotto number match the search hash, so it just stores them all.

From this perspective, turnitin's database search system isn't for finding plagiarized papers, it's for finding the neadle in the haystack: the single valuable HS midterm out of the thousand it recieved from that class last year.

To put it another way, if my paper can be used as evidence of plagerism, my paper is actually quite valuable!
posted by Richard Daly at 1:10 PM on April 2, 2007


oaf Sometimes the professor's book is actually the best one.

Well, sure. A stopped clock is right twice a day, too.
posted by Richard Daly at 1:13 PM on April 2, 2007


If students really want to raise effective hell about plagiarism checking, they should find a service, or start one, which will scrutinize every single piece of class material they get from their professor for plagiarism: every single syllabus, hand-out, problem set, and lecture note-- oh, if only they could get grant proposals, especially; and for extra credit, his or her thesis and whatever papers they can get access to. I think the results would be highly instructive and amusing, though they would probably lead to somewhat swollen unemployment lines in college towns all over the country for a brief period-- followed shortly by development of more realistic standards for plagiarism and less draconian punishments of offenders. It would be a better world, I bet.
posted by jamjam at 1:28 PM on April 2, 2007 [4 favorites]


A stopped clock is right twice a day, too.

Some places can afford more accurate timepieces.
posted by oaf at 1:31 PM on April 2, 2007


I really rather doubt that the student owns the paper in any case, any more than the student owns his or her answers to an exam.

Copyright in the student's own original writings belongs to the student as soon as they are "fixed in a tangible medium"--that is, written down, saved to a hard disk, printed out, etc.

Of course this can be modified by something like a contract, but in general the author owns the copyright on any original work as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium

And that principle applies to students just as it does to everyone else.

Nice copyright FAQ here.
posted by flug at 1:44 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


What's to prevent some government from subpoenaing some essay who knows when? It may not be realistic, but it might bother some people.

Brings to mind the great interest in Hillary Clinton's Wellesley College thesis:
Reading Hillary Rodham's Hidden Thesis

Hillary Clinton's 'Secret' Paper: An Undergrad Thesis Enters the Race for '08
posted by ericb at 1:48 PM on April 2, 2007


You can think of fair use as having a number of different cores. Being within any one of them is sufficient to win.

Well, it can be, but isn't necessarily.
posted by grouse at 1:49 PM on April 2, 2007


Richard Daly wrote "Well, sure. A stopped clock is right twice a day, too."

Not intended to derail this, but what exactly is meant by your statement - do you disagree that a person capable of teaching a class could also be capable of writing a text to accompany the teaching? I know quite a few professors who have published texts, and all of them are in my opinion both good teachers and good textbooks. Dismissing them all as you do isn't a very fair accusation.
It would be more fair to argue that professors who only allow students to buy texts at one specific small bookstore (known to have higher prices than the university bookstore or large bookseller chain) is inappropriate. I know if instances in which this occurs, and students resent it. I don't know any students who resented the prof based on the authorship of the text itself - it's mainly a matter of price and user-friendliness.

Personally, I dislike many of the texts I use in my own courses, but not to the extent that I have yet written one of my own.

Back on topic, although I don't think the students at issue here are out of line in arguing that TurnItIn is violating copyright, I have a very hard time accepting that any essay written by a high schooler is worth $150k. Aside from that little point, I don't like TurnItIn, but I also don't like plagiarism. To combat this, I make my students submit everything electronically, then I check it myself. I can search Google just as well as they can. They are hardly as sneaky as they think they are in copying; with a little care and effort, most of it is noticeable. I'm paid to grade my students, not to allow some service to do it for me.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:49 PM on April 2, 2007


...this is kind of all similar to the Weather Channel- a for-profit company that sells (at a minimum, advertising) their product using materials gathered entirely from resources they did not pay for- in this case, government and NOAA data.

This reminds me of the attempts by the NBA and MLB to control the dissemination of scores and stats:
"...as we have seen, copyright governs specific expressions, but not the facts or ideas upon which the expressions are based. Copyright does not protect ideas. But that is one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of copyright. And even that basic principle is under attack in the new digital environment. In 1997, the National Basketball Association tried to get pager and Internet companies to refrain from distributing game scores without permission. And more recently, Major League Baseball has tried, but so far has failed, to license the use of player statistics to limit 'free riding' firms that make money facilitating fantasy baseball leagues. Every Congressional session, database companies try to create a new form of intellectual property that protects facts and data, thus evading the basic democratic right that lets facts flow freely."

[Columbia Journalism Review: 'Copyright Jungle']
posted by ericb at 1:58 PM on April 2, 2007


Of course this can be modified by something like a contract

Well, yeah. I would have expected that most schools require, as a condition of admission, that student submissions become property of the university with some few exceptions. I'm surprised that that it seems to be rare; it seems an obvious thing to do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:01 PM on April 2, 2007


I think you've got it wrong, jamjam. Plagiarism should be punished with draconian measures. Every single person who plagiarizes their way through school reduces the value of the degrees that everyone else holds.

The thing that people need to realize is that university isn't for everyone. That's not meant as a classist/elitist thing. University-style education is simply not something that everyone needs or is suited for.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:03 PM on April 2, 2007


This thread just illustrates that there is a lot of ignorance in copyright law. It is by no means because people are here are stupid, but that copyright law is out of date and unnecessarily complicated.

There needs to be a campaign to get a clear set of copyright laws that protects both the content owner and the consumer. This just illustrates that mass data collection presents a whole gamut of problems that were never considered when copyright laws were written, due to the complete lack of feasibility of it happening.
posted by geoff. at 2:07 PM on April 2, 2007


This has been a while coming, and shouldn't be a surprise to Turnitin. This Chronicle article from 2002 addresses the issue, and some faculty are sensitive to the issue.

Some institutions have explicitly not gone with Turnitin because it maintains a shared database in contrast to its main competitor, SafeAssignment, which keeps student papers in a single database per institution. Their product is also cheaper I believe.

Turnitin has suggested in marketing emails and elsewhere, that SafeAssignment has ties to paper mills. This tactic also has turned some institutions off to Turnitin. Here is one response from SafeAssignment.

Personally, I have no ties to either and I think these tools are fraught with problems. When I taught freshman composition I found it pretty easy to tell when something was out of kilter with a student's submission. That was as much as anything because their work built on itself over a semester. In some disciplines, I can imagine that this would be different.
posted by idb at 2:12 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Some places can afford more accurate timepieces.

Fair enough. Rather than trade one liners, I'll make my case.

Yes, if there is a single definitive work in a field, someone has to have written it. If you are that professor, I suppose it's understandable to assign your own book.

This system fails, however under any number of common stresses:

1) The professor has a conflict of interest that will cause his or her enrichment through increased sales of the text.

2) The professor has an excessive sense of self importance and believes his or her work superior to all others regardless of its actual value.

3) The professor is too close to his or her own work to accurately evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the text.

The outcome of these failures is as predictable as it is common: a book is assigned not because of its merits but because the professor wrote it. And even if the choice of book is appropriate, it usually appears awful. Professors have a responsibility to professionalism, and one of those duties is the appearance of the same.

Yes, of course, it may be the case that professor Knuth will assign his own text, but the practice of assigning your own book is so common and so easily mistakenly entered into, that increased disfavor of the practice seems appropriate.

Now, if a professor is really serious about the need for a superior text - having found other options lacking - it would be a simple matter to divest himself or herself of the financial interest in the book (maybe by funding a scholarship equal to the value of the self-assignment). This way, when the students all shell out $120 for a copy of the newest edition, there is at least some assurance of fair play.
posted by Richard Daly at 2:15 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


If students really want to raise effective hell about plagiarism checking, they should find a service, or start one, which will scrutinize every single piece of class material they get from their professor for plagiarism:

And be sure to check the professor's published works.

In the recent past manu high-profile academics have been accused of plagiariam (with a number apologizing for their trangression(s), inlcuding Harvard University's Alan Dershowitz , Doris Kearns Goodwin, Charles Ogletree and Larry Tribe, as well as former Naval Academy professor Stephen Ambrose (with accusations going as far back as his PhD thesis).
posted by ericb at 2:17 PM on April 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


There needs to be a campaign to get a clear set of copyright laws that protects both the content owner and the consumer.

I think it's inevitable that any changes to the copyright laws in the current climate would only be detrimental to the consumer, just as all of the other legislative copyright changes in the last decade.
posted by grouse at 2:24 PM on April 2, 2007


Unless you're talking about bona fide original research, I really rather doubt that the student owns the paper in any case, any more than the student owns his or her answers to an exam.

It's their original writing, so yes, they own all of it. They synthesised the information, came up with their own thesis and organisation, and their own words. They have cited the research of others, and in no case (in a decent paper) have relied solely on one researcher or another. Even when they do - as in the case of a book or limited literature review - it's still an original piece of work.

Arguing that students don't own the copyright to their own work because they aren't on the ground doing the original research would be like saying that reporters could never have authorship of articles that are based on press releases and research in secondary sources.

Or, for that matter, that a great many excellent books of synthesis (including most of the best books in my field) don't really belong to their authors, because they used other people's original research to make their points.

Turn-it-in is making money off of other people's work. If they want to archive the papers, they should have to pay royalties to the authors.
posted by jb at 2:26 PM on April 2, 2007


I wonder about both missed plagiarism and false positives with systems like TurnItIn. If there was an accidental match, how could one go about fighting something like that?

Do they keep on-hand copies of the original essays? How good is the hashing algorithm they used on the papers, and how long are the signatures? It would seem to me that, because of the Birthday Paradox, one would have to use a very large signature size to minimize accidental matches, and because each paper submitted adds another signature, the chance of accidental collisions is only going to increase.
posted by JHarris at 2:33 PM on April 2, 2007


Hm, never mind, I think I figured that one out myself. Everything already in the database is already unique, so it only makes sense to compare your paper with the hashes already collected, not ALL the hashes with ALL the other hashes...

Although they had to have been added sometime, I guess, so doesn't effectively work out to be the same? Damn.
posted by JHarris at 2:36 PM on April 2, 2007


Read your student handbook. Twenty years ago in Canada it was well known amongst students that you didn't hold the rights on the work you submitted at University. It was all there in black and white in the student handbook. It was actually one of the first items in mine.

This may be a freaky Canadian thing (shared in the US?).

I don't know the law, but I do know that in Britain, when you write a PhD, that PhD is submitted in manuscript to your university, but never published. You have the right to control who sees that manuscript too. (At lease one celebrity has put controls on hers, so that people have to show that they really are interested in the content to see it).

Whereas, I've heard rumours that in Canada the copyright does not belong to the author of the thesis (who does it belong to?). Certainly, both Canadian and American PhD theses are published by UMI Microfilms and Proquest, which is very handy for other people to read them, but annoying that these for-proft companies make money off of other people's work without paying them. It may be legal, but it isn't moral.
posted by jb at 2:40 PM on April 2, 2007


JHarris, it's not just a hash index, it finds matching partial strings. So yes, some hardcore CompSci is afoot in that db, as with most document indexing systems.
posted by Firas at 2:40 PM on April 2, 2007


Well, yeah. I would have expected that most schools require, as a condition of admission, that student submissions become property of the university with some few exceptions. I'm surprised that that it seems to be rare; it seems an obvious thing to do.

It seems obvious only if you view students as employees of the university (or high school). They are not. They pay the university, not the other way around.
posted by rtha at 2:42 PM on April 2, 2007


Firas, but doesn't that mean they have to keep archived the entire paper database, which their statements say they do not do?

I suppose what they probably do is use an encoding system on the words to render them down, then treat synonyms as being similar in some way (to catch plagiarism through rewording)....

Ah, yes, surely some hardcode CompSci, in any case.
posted by JHarris at 2:45 PM on April 2, 2007


This reminds me of the attempts by the NBA and MLB to control the dissemination of scores and stats

Off-topic, but related ...

While not invoking/involving copyright as a means of control, there are other measures sports organizations are taking to limit online coverage. From today's New York Times: Sports Organizations Try to Limit Online Reporting.
posted by ericb at 2:56 PM on April 2, 2007


JHarris, Actually, the only thing that legalese upthread says is that the text of the paper is converted into a "fingerprint," and that the "fingerprint" is stored.

I have experience enough with the system to say that the whole of the paper is somehow encoded into that "fingerprint," because the system can and does display verbatim string matches in cases of suspected plagiarism.

In the legal defense above, The original text is called a "reference" and while the claim is that the "fingerprint" stores facts about the original document, the truth is that those facts are not a summary description but an exhaustive and complete catalogue.

Specifically, the "fingerprint" is probably a lossless encoding of the paper optimized for speedy machine readability. Note that the "fingerprint" is never identified as a reductive hash. It's probably some sort of index and concordance of the submitted essay, and when a match is found the system is perfectly capable of re-creating any arbitrary portion of the matching document.

Their lawyers attempt to neatly sidestep this whole issue. I'm no lawyer, but I imagine a technically expert legal firm ought to be able to drive a tank through turnitin's arguments.

For example:

Commercial use of a work may still be “fair use” under U.S. Copyright Law (17 U.S.C. §107), especially when less than the entire work is being used, and/or the use does not “materially impair the marketability of the work which is copied.” Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 566-67 (1985). Here, the actual work is used by the TURNITIN system only as a reference, for purposes of creating a separate work, the digital “fingerprint”. If there is a match between a submitted work and fingerprinted portions of an archived student work, only that matching text is highlighted in the originality report.


The implication here is that the defense, "especially when less than the entire work is being used," somehow relates to their "fingerprint" argument. They imply - but do not state - that the fingerprint is "less than the entire work." They then re-enforce this notion by saying, "only the matching text is highlighted in the originality report."

Of course, the copyright issue isn't with regard to the "originality report", it's the content of the fingerprint that's at issue. If the fingerprint is capable of reproducing arbitrary portions of the source then it's not a referencing work, it's a wholesale encoding, the same way a .zip file can be an encoding of CD audio even though the two files look nothing alike to the naked eye.
posted by Richard Daly at 3:19 PM on April 2, 2007 [4 favorites]


Curiously, this is kind of all similar to the Weather Channel- a for-profit company that sells (at a minimum, advertising) their product using materials gathered entirely from resources they did not pay for- in this case, government and NOAA data.

Why do people like to claim that the things people get from the government weren't paid for? Are you under the impression that The Weather Channel doesn't pay taxes?

I have seen no indication that TII pays taxes to students.
posted by phearlez at 3:22 PM on April 2, 2007


Wow Richard Daly, great explanation!
posted by JHarris at 3:33 PM on April 2, 2007


Are you under the impression that The Weather Channel doesn't pay taxes?

Are you under the impression that NOAA data is available only to those who pay taxes to the U.S. government?
posted by grouse at 3:34 PM on April 2, 2007


Are you under the impression that NOAA data is available only to those who pay taxes to the U.S. government?

What does that have to with the The Weather Channel, which is a US company?
posted by phearlez at 3:45 PM on April 2, 2007


Are you under the impression that NOAA data is available only to those who pay taxes to the U.S. government?
What does that have to with the The Weather Channel, which is a US company?


It just underscores the fact that paying money to the U.S. government directly or indirectly has nothing to do with whether you can use these resources. If the Weather Channel can avoid paying tax through tax shelters, or by moving the whole company to Canada, they'll still be able to use those resources.
posted by grouse at 3:58 PM on April 2, 2007


This strikes me as being very similar to Google Book Search. I suspect Google may lose the suit against it for many of the same reasons that TurnItIn may lose this one. One of the details learned from the Google and University of Michigan contract is that Google is making two copies, one for themselves to index, and one for the library as payment for access to that library's collection. While making a copy, or even two, is not itself enough to lose a fair use defense, the commercial (and barter is commercial) use of a copy is a pretty difficult hurdle to overcome. TurnItIn also has a problem arguing fair use. Checking against an index created by a copy and displaying a snippet, as Google does in GBS may be covered under fair use as transformative, and they argue it's non-commercial as they don't show ads next to the snippets, but they may still lose their case in that exchange of the second copy for access to the books. Here, TurnItIn isn't limiting the amount that can be checked against the index so that may be a significant deciding factor. And as access to the index is clearly commercial, they can't even hide behind Google's no advertising defense. The usefulness or public utility of either index may not really matter in a fair use defense, it's how those four factors noted above are balanced and commercial use has been a pretty significant factor in the past. You can win a fair use defense even when a protected creation is used commercially, but the commercial use has to be either very brief or very transformed, and neither seems to be the case in either of these suits. Both are based on the assumption that they can find exact matches in their index of full copies. And both are commercial in nature. The only factor that may be in question is effect on the market. Google may have a harder time with that one. They are now scanning thirteen libraries. Potentially they are giving thirteen copies of any particular book to those libraries. That will have a significant effect on the market. On that factor TurnItIn has a slight advantage as the market value of this work is undetermined, but the clear commercial use of the service may negate that.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:03 PM on April 2, 2007


I found it easier to just write shitty essays that would get me no more than a C average.
posted by drstein at 4:07 PM on April 2, 2007


This strikes me as being very similar to Google Book Search.

A perhaps crucial distinction is that Google allows the copyright owners to opt out of Book Search.
posted by grouse at 4:11 PM on April 2, 2007


On-line searches aren't as useful as they should be, alas: the vast majority of on-line papers are PDFs and thus inaccessible. Turnitin is helpful, but not as useful as you'd think.

It's been the target of this kind of lawsuit in the past, and it's still going -- winning this kind of argument is difficult, I suppose.

Anti-plagiarism software is no more a violation of a student's rights than a proctored exam. Yes, people try to cheat - out of desperation, inability, stupidity, lack of interest, lack of knowledge, contempt for the process, fill in the blank -- and must be prevented from doing so. This is because anyone who can't write a simple research paper should NOT get a university degree.
posted by jrochest at 4:42 PM on April 2, 2007


Well, yeah. I would have expected that most schools require, as a condition of admission, that student submissions become property of the university with some few exceptions. I'm surprised that that it seems to be rare; it seems an obvious thing to do.


Which is probably why the students suing are highschool students. They can choose to go to a collage that does not use turnitin later on, but for now they're stuck with their local highschool, unless they want to shell out for a private school.


And someone under 18 would probably need a guardian to sign off on any contract anyway.


Curiously, this is kind of all similar to the Weather Channel- a for-profit company that sells (at a minimum, advertising) their product using materials gathered entirely from resources they did not pay for- in this case, government and NOAA data.
...
Why do people like to claim that the things people get from the government weren't paid for? Are you under the impression that The Weather Channel doesn't pay taxes?

Government data is public domain. I can't believe you guys got into an argument about it, there is no copyright on government data, the situation is completely irrelevant.
posted by delmoi at 4:44 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anti-plagiarism software is no more a violation of a student's rights than a proctored exam.

It's not the anti-plagiarism software per se, it's the fact that it copies and keeps the student's work after a check for plagiarism.

Government data is public domain. I can't believe you guys got into an argument about it, there is no copyright on government data, the situation is completely irrelevant.

The person who originally brought it up argues that students' work in public schools should be public domain as well.
posted by grouse at 4:56 PM on April 2, 2007


If I have to turn something in to turnitin.com, but I'm not finished before the paper is due... I just submit what I have to the site. It's useless; you can send in whatever you want since the teacher merely checks that there is no plagiarism. You can write some complete BS report and then turn that in online, and turn in your fully plagiarized report to class.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 5:12 PM on April 2, 2007


The solution is obvious: turn in your papers sealed in an envelope with a EULA, including some kind of viral GPL-like thing stating that, should the paper be turned in to a matching database, you get a portion of the profits. And I'm almost not kidding.
posted by adipocere at 5:20 PM on April 2, 2007


And also, there is no "clicky box" stating that you are giving the rights of your document to the site. And when you turn something in, that is not how the teacher grades it. It comes up as some freakishly formatted block of text that is next to impossible to read, and so at least in my class we are also required to turn in a physical copy of the document besides the one we submit to turnitin.com.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 5:20 PM on April 2, 2007


Anti-plagiarism software is no more a violation of a student's rights than a proctored exam.

Until proctoring an exam means making a copy of every student's answers, you're wrong.
posted by oaf at 5:34 PM on April 2, 2007


Anti-plagiarism software is no more a violation of a student's rights than a proctored exam.

Do you realize this sound horribly dishonest? I'm going to assume you're missing the point here, and misunderstanding copyright law.

The anti-plagarism service is ultimately irrelevant here -- it's the wholesale violation of the student's copyright that is at issue. Students can be subject to anti-plagarism services, software or otherwise, without any violation of right, or with violation of rights.

In this case, the anti-plagiarism software violates the student copyright (and it's a pretty blatant and indefensible-as-fair-use violation of copyright. The rights holders in this case are not rich or powerful, however, so getting their justice in court may be hard).

It's not important whether you like or dislike anti-plagiarism software. Students are either required to subsidize the commercial enterprise that is TurnItIn by assigning them copyrights (via lame contractual obligations with their college), or the student is having his copyright violated by TurnItIn. The former is a shady practice on the part of the school, but probably not an illegal one. The latter is clearly illegal.
posted by teece at 6:42 PM on April 2, 2007


My students agree to use Turnitin, and then plagiarize, repeatedly and flagrantly. If I have a 2% plagiarism rate WITH the service, how many more people were plagiarizing WITHOUT it?

Ultimately, swift and sure detection is a better enforcement mechanism than severe but rare punishment. With Turnitin, I don't have to destroy a student's career by marring their transcript; I can just have them do a rewrite of the offending material, or in the most flagrant cases, have them start from scratch. The earlier these detection methods are introduced, the less likely our children are to learn to cheat out of desperation.

I have nothing but affection for the service, and would hate to see something as silly as legal principles undo it. I say, nationalize the company so we don't have to worry about these pesky intellectual property issues. Honesty is a national resource.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:25 PM on April 2, 2007


the students who contribute content to turnitin's database should be paid for it. let turnitin negotiate with them at arm's length for this right, or else the paper doesn't go in. that way everybody's interests are protected.
posted by bruce at 10:52 PM on April 2, 2007


Government data is public domain.

It's more like, 'data produced by employees of the federal govt in the course of their jobs.' Data produced by state govts is exempt, as is data produced by private entities contracted by the fed.
posted by ryanrs at 3:50 AM on April 3, 2007


Why haven't students started a movement to submit -all- their papers to turnitin.com -before- submitting them to their instructors? If enough students did this, wouldn't it render turnitin effectively useless by creating an overwhelming majority of "positives"?
posted by po at 4:10 AM on April 3, 2007


1) Write a paper.
2) Sell a non-transferrable license on Craigslist (profit!)
3) Later use paper for my own class.
4) When paper is flagged as plagiarism, sue for libel (profit!)
5) Sue Turnitin for copyright violation (profit!)
6) Sue my school for same (profit?)
7) Sue original licensee & their school (worth a try!)
8) Submit resume to media conglomerate (paycheck!)

Any mefi business majors want to give this a try? Send me a check if it works.
posted by ryanrs at 4:11 AM on April 3, 2007


Whoops, almost forgot:
(5.1) Seek class status.
posted by ryanrs at 4:18 AM on April 3, 2007


My students agree to use Turnitin, and then plagiarize, repeatedly and flagrantly. If I have a 2% plagiarism rate WITH the service, how many more people were plagiarizing WITHOUT it?

Let's be clear - your conclusion is that using TurnItIn motivates some quantity of students to cheat based on the fact that some cheat even knowing that cheat-detection is being used?

I don't get this conclusion. Are you positing that there's a quantity of cheaters of which some percentage are less lazy and/or stupid than the ones you're detecting? I'm inclined to think this proves the opposite - that the people who would cheat rather than do the work are going to cheat no matter what you do.

I don't know that I have a big problem with the TurnItIn service, though it smells of false confidence to me, but I think believing it acts as a deterrent in any appreciable way is misguided. I think you'd get a bigger payoff as an institution if you took extreme and public action against proven cheaters that you find the old fashioned way.
posted by phearlez at 7:23 AM on April 3, 2007


1) Write a paper.
2) Sell a non-transferrable license on Craigslist (profit!)
3) Later use paper for my own class.
4) When paper is flagged as plagiarism, sue for libel (profit!)


Have fun with that. Using a paper that had been previously written for some other purpose to satisfy the requirements of a current course without clear, direct, and specific permission to do so is self-plagiarism, which is a real no-shit academic offense. I have sat on committees upholding the big, fat F's of students that did this.

The anti-plagarism service is ultimately irrelevant here -- it's the wholesale violation of the student's copyright that is at issue.

I find it difficult to believe that students sit around honestly worrying about the copyright to their papers, and think it's a lot more likely that students are really just objecting to the fraud-detection.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:28 AM on April 3, 2007


I have nothing but affection for the service, and would hate to see something as silly as legal principles undo it. I say, nationalize the company so we don't have to worry about these pesky intellectual property issues. Honesty is a national resource. (my emph)

Hmm. So honesty is a national resource, but a company that violates student copyright for profit without recompense is honest and deserving of nothing but affection? You don't see the contradiction there?

Come on.

We already have anti-plagiarism software in the academy -- it's called the professor that grades the paper.
posted by teece at 8:18 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I find it difficult to believe that students sit around honestly worrying about the copyright to their papers, and think it's a lot more likely that students are really just objecting to the fraud-detection.

I can't speak for those students motivations. But I'm a writer. I've never plagiarized in my life. If a paper I wrote and submitted to TurnItIn showed any problems, I guarantee you it would be a false positive or software error. I generally dislike draconian protection of copyright (when I put things online, they are non-com CC or GPL). I have no sympathy for plagiarist, and realize that there are a lot of idiot plagiarists in the academy.

And I would refuse to participate in a class that required me to use TurnItIn. I DO NOT TRUST a company whose business model involves knowingly breaking the law. Nor do I trust a service as opaque as TurnItIn to police something as important as academic honesty. I was not alone in this belief a few years ago at uni.

But your argument encapsulates the reason it will be hard for the students to prevail, even though TurnItIn clearly violates the law: the Orwellian insistence that any objection to the service is a defense of plagiarism.
posted by teece at 8:26 AM on April 3, 2007


If a paper I wrote and submitted to TurnItIn showed any problems, I guarantee you it would be a false positive or software error.

Then you're objecting to the service, not to anything to do with copyright infringement.

Nor do I trust a service as opaque as TurnItIn to police something as important as academic honesty.

Nor do I. That has nothing to do with the copyright to the students' papers and everything to do with not trusting brute-force, simple-minded text matching to find academic fraud.

the Orwellian insistence that any objection to the service is a defense of plagiarism

How is it Orwellian? I've been teaching college classes one way or another since the mid 90s, and I've never had any student, ever, come up and ask me about the copyright to their assigned papers. This just doesn't seem to be a concern that students have... unless it's in regards to a fraud detection service. One that I can't think does a very good job, but that has nothing to do with copyright.

Likewise, I suspect that the for-profit nature of turnitin is a red herring. Would people really stop objecting if a university consortium bought it and ran it as a nonprofit?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2007


"How is it Orwellian? I've been teaching college classes one way or another since the mid 90s, and I've never had any student, ever, come up and ask me about the copyright to their assigned papers. This just doesn't seem to be a concern that students have... unless it's in regards to a fraud detection service. One that I can't think does a very good job, but that has nothing to do with copyright."

Uh, I routinely publish things that I've worked on for class. Granted, that doesn't address the Turnitin system, but I am concerned with my copyrights. (This may be because I'm a journalism student).
posted by klangklangston at 10:09 AM on April 3, 2007


Let's be clear - your conclusion is that using TurnItIn motivates some quantity of students to cheat based on the fact that some cheat even knowing that cheat-detection is being used?

My conclusion is that some students cheat, and that I can catch more of them with this service than without it. I SUSPECT that more students cheated before the service was introduced. Hell, if Martin Luther King, Jr. could plagiarize his divinities thesis, it must have been pretty easy and common.

Hmm. So honesty is a national resource, but a company that violates student copyright for profit without recompense is honest and deserving of nothing but affection? You don't see the contradiction there?

I'm not a big fan of the for-profit model in this respect. I'd prefer that the 50 largest universities buy the service and run it as a non-profit, as klangklangston suggests. But we live in a society that has determined that profits provide a greater motivation than encouraging virtue in the young, so I'll take what I can get.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:15 AM on April 3, 2007


Sorry, the consortium was ROU_Xenophobe's suggestion. My bad.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:16 AM on April 3, 2007


I've been teaching college classes one way or another since the mid 90s, and I've never had any student, ever, come up and ask me about the copyright to their assigned papers.

Why would any student ask you? If they know anything about copyright, then they know they already own the copyright to these papers.
posted by grouse at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2007


I'm not a big fan of the for-profit model in this respect. I'd prefer that the 50 largest universities buy the service and run it as a non-profit, as klangklangston suggests. But we live in a society that has determined that profits provide a greater motivation than encouraging virtue in the young, so I'll take what I can get.

No offense, but who cares what you think? Since you didn't write the papers, you have no say over how they are used, from a legal standpoint.

The whole point of copyright is that author gets to decide who profits from their work.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2007


No offense, but who cares what you think?
posted by smackfu at 1:10 PM on April 3, 2007


That's a tagline waiting to happen.
posted by klangklangston at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2007


peeedro writes "It's okay to borrow and listen to a CD, but copyright laws prevent you from making a copy of a borrowed CD. Just as copyright laws should prevent the school from giving a copy of a student's paper to a company."

FYI: Copying a CD you have borrowed from a friend is 100% legal in Canada.

ROU_Xenophobe writes "Unless you're talking about bona fide original research, I really rather doubt that the student owns the paper in any case, any more than the student owns his or her answers to an exam."

Baring special arrangements like work for hire any creative work is owned by the author. And in this case creative is defined very loosely, an essay or exam answers are almost certainly going to qualify if they rise above the level of multiplication tables.
posted by Mitheral at 3:03 PM on April 3, 2007


No offense, but who cares what you think? Since you didn't write the papers, you have no say over how they are used, from a legal standpoint.

I'm not sure how this is responsive to my comment, but apparently I've peeved you in some way. Everybody's worried about the for-profit element of Turnitin, and I was echoing a suggestion that would remove that obstacle. Why did you choose to comment on my comment rather than ROU_Xenophobe's? Along with others here, I'm simply pointing out that intellectual property is not a natural right but something granted by statute and contract, and it could just as easily be taken away for public policy reasons that I take to be good.

Since I have to grade them, I prefer to be sure that the paper I am grading actually belongs to the student who has submitted it. My students respect that, and my institution supports me. Plagiarism is very, very prevalent, in my own experience and according to anonymous surveys. Perhaps there are problems with this particular enforcement mechanism, but it is better than the currently available alternatives. Perhaps this case will force us to innovate some more, but that innovation may not be technological: it may be institutional. It may involve building consent into the admissions process, or denying students intellectual property rights to their school work by statute. But I don't believe anyone would like to make plagiarism as easy as it was ten years ago.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:23 PM on April 3, 2007


anotherpanacea
Perhaps there are problems with this particular enforcement mechanism, but it is better than the currently available alternatives.

Again, better than the alternatives, BUT ILLEGAL. I don't really care how well it works for you -- it's a plain and simple, straight-forward violation of the student's copyright.

ROU
How is it Orwellian? I've been teaching college classes one way or another since the mid 90s, and I've never had any student, ever, come up and ask me about the copyright to their assigned papers. This just doesn't seem to be a concern that students have... unless it's in regards to a fraud detection service. One that I can't think does a very good job, but that has nothing to do with copyright.

Because the students must be pro-fraud, if they are against this fraud detection service (your words. It's really plagiarism we are talking about here). Why else would students care about this, right? That's simply not the case. TurnItIn is slimy. Their violation of copyright law is illegal -- and they use that law-breaking to run a for profit service to keep people "honest." George, meet Orwell.

Likewise, I suspect that the for-profit nature of turnitin is a red herring. Would people really stop objecting if a university consortium bought it and ran it as a nonprofit

Yes, I'd actually feel a hell of a lot better about such a service if it were run by a university or non-profit, and if students were given very clear guidelines about how their work would be used and not used, and if that service was NON-PROFIT. And it would certainly need to be legal -- so any student using it would need to have a signed contract assigning copyright rights.

Rather than questioning motives (which you ultimately can not know), ROU, you should stick to the facts here. And the facts are simple.

Student motivation on this front is 100% irrelevant. The service is illegal. Students have copyright protections, and they can choose to enforce them for any reason whatsoever. The lazy ass plagiarists certainly aren't going to be the ones to do that, though: they can't even write their own papers.

Digital services like TurnItIn and Google Books are very interesting, but they are also a clear violation of copyright laws. I'd like to see a reasonable attempt at reaching a decent compromise between copyright and fair use (taking fair use back), but until hell freezes over and that happens, we live with the copyright law we have. And under than law, TurnItIn runs a business based on illegal copyright infringement.
posted by teece at 5:08 PM on April 3, 2007


MetaFilter: That's a tagline waiting to happen.
posted by ericb at 5:37 PM on April 3, 2007


teece: as I've said , my students agree to participate in the Turnitin system. As such, there is no violation of copyright.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:33 PM on April 3, 2007


teece: as I've said , my students agree to participate in the Turnitin system

Would you mind telling me how that works? You ask them if it's ok? They click "Accept" to some contract the first time the use TurnItIn? The school makes it a part of their enrollment requirements? You hand out a contract with the syllabus? Just curious. Both idle curiosity, and I wonder if the various systems of assent students give pass legal muster.
posted by teece at 6:35 PM on April 4, 2007


I say: "Please submit your papers through this service. It helps me prevent plagiarism." Then we talk about plagiarism for a while.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:07 AM on April 5, 2007


So basically, you don't address the copyright issue at all.
posted by grouse at 8:27 AM on April 5, 2007


That's really weak, anotherpanacea. What you describe doesn't mitigate the copyright infringement in any way.
posted by unSane at 8:40 AM on April 5, 2007


What are you talking about? I say: "Please use this service." That's what's known in contract law as an "offer." They do, knowing that that the service will add their papers to its database and keep them from being used again in whole or in part. That's known as "acceptance." Gosh, I'm no lawyer, but I think that might mitigate any legal concerns completely!

But, you know, feel free to tell me how to do my job some more. It's amusing.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:45 AM on April 5, 2007


What happens if a student chooses not to use the service?
posted by unSane at 9:07 AM on April 5, 2007


By the way, gosh, you aren't a lawyer.
posted by unSane at 9:08 AM on April 5, 2007


What happens if a student chooses not to use the service?</em

Nothing. *Spooky music here*

posted by anotherpanacea at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2007


I say: "Please use this service." That's what's known in contract law as an "offer."

No, it's not.

But, you know, feel free to tell me how to do my job some more. It's amusing.

Probably not as amusing as your total misunderstanding of contract law. And who's telling you how to do your job?
posted by grouse at 9:23 AM on April 5, 2007


Hmm. Not sure why that em thing happened.

In any case, Turnitin has a EULA that all students accept to use it. I leave it to some actual lawyer to determine whether that satisfies the intellectual property issue.

Googling, I find that syllabi AREN'T contracts. Whooboy, I'm gonna be abusing the shit out of my newfound power to be arbitrary and capricious.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:31 AM on April 5, 2007


And who's telling you how to do your job?

Again, better than the alternatives, BUT ILLEGAL. I don't really care how well it works for you -- it's a plain and simple, straight-forward violation of the student's copyright.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2007


My point, badly hampered by its misunderstanding of contract law, was simply that my students use the service voluntarily and knowingly, and that it's not going to be illegal in that case. Or if it is then the law is crazy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2007


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By using the Turnitin service, the user of Turnitin acknowledges that he or she has read this Agreement, understands it and agrees to be bound by its terms and conditions.

As provided in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, we have designated the following individual for notification of potential copyright infringement regarding Web sites hosted by Turnitin:

John Barrie
510-287-9720 ext 227
510-444-1952 (fax)
legal@iparadigms.com

If you believe content hosted by Turnitin infringes a copyright, please provide the following information to the person identified above (17 U.S.C. §512)

A physical or electronic signature of the copyright owner or authorized agent; Identification of the copyrighted work(s) claimed to have been infringed; Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of the infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit us to locate the material; Information regarding how we may contact you (e.g., mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address); A statement that the copyright owner or its authorized agent has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law; and A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and made under penalty of perjury, and, if an agent is providing the notification, a statement that the agent is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:57 AM on April 5, 2007


anotherpanacea, the legal issues are not between you and your students. They are between your students and Turnitin. Whether the students have agreed with Turnitin on this matter is separate. And so far, Turnitin seems to be relying mainly on copyright law rather than contract law or estoppel. The courts will figure it all out for us.
posted by grouse at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2007


Did you actually read the contract, anotherpanacea?

Can you find the bit where the students agree to their essays being stored and used, giving up any copyright?

Funny, neither could I.
posted by unSane at 10:04 AM on April 5, 2007


Would you care to specifically point out what you think is relevant in that enormous block of legalese?
posted by grouse at 10:08 AM on April 5, 2007


Eh? How should I know? I'm not a lawyer. However, here are some possibilities:

In no event shall iParadigms, LLC and/or its suppliers be liable for any direct, indirect, punitive, incidental, special, or consequential damages arising out of or in any way connected with the use of this web site or with the delay or inability to use this web site, or for any information, software, products, and services obtained through this web site, or otherwise arising out of the use of this web site, whether based in contract, tort, strict liability or otherwise, even if iParadigms, inc. or any of its suppliers has been advised of the possibility of damages.

Or maybe it has to do with a specific statute in Almeda County, CA:

You hereby consent to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of courts in Alameda County, California, U.S.A., in all disputes arising out of or relating to the use of this web site.

Or maybe it has something to do with (17 U.S.C. §512).

My guess is that they've got themselves covered; I've been using them for four or five years now, without incident. But I supplied this block of legalese because you were curious about the agreement. I've heard a lot of assertion in this thread, and been guilty of my part of it. Now we've got something to analyze.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:13 AM on April 5, 2007


As I suspected, 17 U.S.C. looks like the culprit. Funny how those fancy lawyer types bury it in a numerical reference, eh?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:55 AM on April 5, 2007


anotherpanacea, you have not the faintest idea what you're talking about.
posted by unSane at 12:29 PM on April 5, 2007


How should I know? I'm not a lawyer.

If you're going to insist on discussing the law, then please, for the love of God, stop vaguely referring to enormous blocks of text, when you have no idea what it means. Simply put, the possibilities you have presented above are ridiculous arguments for a theory that relies on contract.
posted by grouse at 12:52 PM on April 5, 2007


The funny thing is that, though I have no idea what I'm talking about, I am still somehow right and you are still somehow wrong. Turnitin will survive this legal challenge, and it will be because of one of the many blocks of legalese that I or someone else posted above. And I take comfort in that fact, even as it makes me wish for $120,000 and three footloose years so that I might go to law school and actually understand the reasoning behind this victory of common sense in an otherwise Topsy Turvy world.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:09 PM on April 5, 2007


I am still somehow right and you are still somehow wrong.

How am I somehow wrong? What have I said here that is any way wrong? Or are you once again just making unjustified and unjustifiable vague claims in the hopes that something will stick?

Your problem is not that you don't have $120,000 for law school, it's that you can't bother to read carefully or make a proper argument with specific substantiated claims. That's something I would expect from a teacher of philosophy as much as any lawyer.

Turnitin will survive this legal challenge, and it will be because of one of the many blocks of legalese that I or someone else posted above.

You have an awful lot of confidence in the eventual results of this litigation, especially for someone who admits they have no idea what they are talking about. I doubt many lawyers would share your confidence.
posted by grouse at 3:41 PM on April 5, 2007


I am entirely sure we can solve this by insulting each other on a dark blue webpage.
posted by Firas at 3:50 PM on April 5, 2007


The funny thing is that, though I have no idea what I'm talking about, I am still somehow right and you are still somehow wrong. Turnitin will survive this legal challenge, and it will be because of one of the many blocks of legalese that I or someone else posted above.

Others more qualified in these matters than you might consider you 'off-base' and flat-out wrong and ill-informed.
"Andrew Beckerman-Rodau, co-director of the intellectual property law program at Suffolk University Law School, said that although the law regarding fair use is subject to interpretation, he thinks the students have a good case.

'Typically, if you quote something for education purposes, scholarship or news reports, that's considered fair use,' Beckerman-Rodau said. 'But it seems like Turnitin is a commercial use. They turn around and sell this service, and it's expensive. And the service only works because they get these papers.'"*
The blocks of text you quote are from iParadigm's USER AGREEMENT and is based on their interpretation of the law. Their interpretation can be challenged. This lawsuit is doing that. The fact that the students expressely copyrighted their works forces the legal system to rule as to whose interpretation of copyright law applies. A court of law is the one to make that determination. Its finding will settle the matter and will set precedent for future cases. There is a lot of discussion and examination of copyright laws on the books and how they now apply to us in this 'digital age.'

BTW -- the company isn't so sure about their standing in these matters.
"Turnitin.com considered the potential issue with copyright laws in 2002 and consulted a legal firm to address it. A legal document on its website clarifies why archiving unpublished student manuscripts is not an infringement upon copyright laws.

It admitted that, 'The archival of a submitted work is perhaps the most legally sensitive aspect of the Turnitin system.'"*
That being said, Professor, as a betting man, I'm not betting on your dog in this race! Friendly suggestion: stick with Philosophy.

All comments above -- ©,ericb. Expectation for the grant of ® status, 2008.
posted by ericb at 3:56 PM on April 5, 2007


it's that you can't bother to read carefully or make a proper argument with specific substantiated claims.

This is a criticism I've levied at others, and I take it seriously. But though I admit to posting legalese, it was not with the intent of making an argument, but rather of making the company's argument available for analysis. My primary intention in joining this discussion was to share my positive experiences with the service, and my hope that legal questions would not interfere with its use. As no one has given me any reason to doubt that my own usage of the service is illegal, the rest of this discussion, especially this one case in Arlington, can fall by the wayside.

The thing is, I feel a fundamental sense of betrayal when a student cheats. I mostly teach small classes, and in a class of ten or fifteen students a community develops, even friendships in some cases. Moreover, I hate grading. It's boring, and I get through it by thinking about the students behind the work, and about how I can best help them to develop as thinkers and scholars. It makes that part of the job rewarding, but only marginally. So when a student cheats, it crushes me.

When I discovered my first clear cut case of plagiarism, it was in an extra credit paper, of all things. One of my favorite students at the time was trying to impress me, in fact, he was angling for a recommendation, so he sent me this paper the night before he was coming to speak with me about the letter, in order to convert his A- into an A. When I realized that he had copied large portions of his paper (from an article written by a friend of mine!) I was devastated. I had to confront him about it, work through the denials, and ultimately tell him that I couldn't recommend him in good faith. He cried. Afterwards, I cried.

Before Turnitin, I had to doubt each of the papers I read, especially if it was any good. I had to spend a lot of time googling suspicious phrases, and even then, I'd always wonder if I was being bamboozled or had missed something. I had colleagues who were prosecuting plagiarism for four or five students a semester, and I was worried I was just not paranoid enough. With Turnitin, I can trust my students. That's it: no argument, just an anecdote.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:36 PM on April 5, 2007


anotherpanacea, I was not telling you how to do your job (and you really ought to read a little more closely), but rather what I thought of one aspect your job. I don't think you are doing anything illegal, and I don't have huge problems with the ethics of what you are doing, but rather the company TurnItIn. I'm sure you'll keep doing your job as you see fit, quite apart from my non-edicts on how to do said job.

I get to have an opinion about how you do your job, and that's all I was offering (in one very narrow sense).

I think TurnItIn is illegal -- I strongly suspect any fair court would agree with me. At the very least, TurnItIn would need to be getting legally valid copyright assignments from students, which they aren't (and it would be pretty easy for you to require students to give such a contract to TurnItIn. I would have some small beef with the ethics of that, but that's not what is happening).

But, the Courts don't always decide things the way I see them, or even logically, so who knows what will actually happen. Hell, the two students in question might even just get a big fat check from TurnItIn in exchange for silence, and this whole issue will go away (for now).

I'd really, really like to see the electronic idea that by using a web site you are agreeing to a legally binding contract, especially one that takes away your rights, squashed down as the bullshit it is. Shit like that needs to stop*. If TurnItIn.com wants some use of copyright, they need to be getting legally binding assent, and simple use of a web site that has a 6pt linking pointing to legalese (at worst), or a flimsy "Click to Accept" button (at best) really should not count as signing a contract, in my book.

*By reading this comment, you agree to assign income to teece, in perpetuity. I also own the copyright to all text posted in this thread, if you read this. This is only slightly farther than some web sites have gone.
posted by teece at 5:50 PM on April 5, 2007


God damn it teece -- where do I need to send my check for reading your comment?
posted by ericb at 6:49 PM on April 5, 2007


I'd really, really like to see the electronic idea that by using a web site you are agreeing to a legally binding contract, especially one that takes away your rights, squashed down as the bullshit it is.

Even if it were a legally binding contract, the plaintiffs argue that contracts with minors are voidable under Virginia law, and the minors in question have voided the contract. Whoops!
posted by grouse at 6:57 PM on April 5, 2007


Oh wait, teece -- might there be different interpretations regarding the terms and conditions of what has been written here in this thread -- your words and those of others, including "moi?" Must I unconditionally concede to your stated conditions, Monsieur Teece? I think not! En Garde! I sue you, teece! Let the courts decide! For they shall determine the rules of copyright as they apply to the "digital world."
posted by ericb at 6:59 PM on April 5, 2007


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