Turnitin Found Not To Violate Student Copyrights

from the might-be-a-good-thing-for-Google... dept

Last year, we noted that some students were suing iParadigms, the makers of "Turnitin" the excessively popular plagiarism checker used by many colleges and high schools. The professors feed student papers into the system, and it returns a "score" judging how likely the paper is to be plagiarized. However, it also takes a copy of each paper and includes it in its database for future plagiarism checks. This annoyed quite a few students who felt that this was copyright infringement -- using their papers in a commercial database.

However, a court has now rejected the students' arguments and found that Turnitin does not violate the copyright of the students for a variety of reasons. First there is the fact that students had to agree to the terms of the service to use it -- even if they were forced to by their schools. However, the court finds that this is a problem for the schools, not Turnitin. But, much more interesting is the rationale for why storing those papers is considered "fair use." Among other things, the court found that Turnitin isn't using the papers for their creative meaning and even though it stores the entire document, it doesn't really publish a full copy of it for others to see.

That becomes especially interesting given the current lawsuit concerning Google's scanning of books from various university libraries, as it may be able to note the similarities in this situation to Turnitin's. There are some differences -- and clearly, the publishers will claim that the impact on the commercial value is quite different (despite evidence to the contrary -- but this ruling is likely to help Google's position at least somewhat.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    ReallyEvilCanine, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 11:07am

    Uhhh,,, Houston? I think we have a problem.

    students had to agree to the terms of the service to use it -- even if they were forced to by their schools

    A coerced contract is invalid.

    Turnitin isn't using the papers for their creative meaning

    Copyright isn't about creativity, it's about publishing, distribution and usage rights. This one should be smacked down quickly on appeal. Article 3 of the Berne Convention expressly addresses "works published with the consent of their authors".

     

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  2.  
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    Mike (profile), Mar 25th, 2008 @ 11:15am

    Re: Uhhh,,, Houston? I think we have a problem.

    A coerced contract is invalid.

    Right, but the court's point (reasonably, I would think) is that the coercion is between the school and the student. Thus, a student could sue the school over the coercion, but the blame shouldn't be placed on Turnitin...

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymamous Coward, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 11:35am

    Consent?

    i thought in the US you had to be of the age of majority for a contract to be binding? correct me if i'm wrong, but if i ask/force some pimply-faced kid to sign a contract to agree with something, then he fails to deliver, i wouldn't be able to sue him since i entered into a contract with a minor. granted it's not the spirit of what's going on here, but the letter seems pretty clear to me. i'm neither a lawyer nor an american (canadian, eh?) so i might be way off base, but i watch enough judge judy to get the gist of it. oh yeah, and minors can't sign binding contracts in canada.

     

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  4.  
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    pegr, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 11:51am

    Contract with minor is valid...

    You can certainly execute a contract with a minor. If you tried to sue to enfirce it, it would likely be tossed out, but that's a different issue.

    Oh, and if the parents of the minor learn of the contract but take no action to repudiate it, it can certainly be enforced.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 11:56am

    Re: Consent?

    At my school it was less of a contract and more of submit your paper to turnitin or don't get credit for the paper.

     

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  6.  
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    Mike (profile), Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Consent?

    Read the link. The case discusses the "minor" issue.

     

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  7.  
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    BTR1701, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re: Uhhh,,, Houston? I think we have a problem

    > > A coerced contract is invalid.

    > Right, but the court's point is that the
    > coercion is between the school and the student.

    Which party the students have a cause of action against for the coercion is irrelevant to the issue of whether the coercion invalidated the contract.

    A coerced contract is void as a matter of law Under the law, it's as if no contract ever existed in the first place.

    Turnitin should not be able to legally rely on a contract that never existed as its defense to a copyright infringement suit and the judge in this case needs to go back and take a first-year law school Contacts Law class because he's obviously a bit rusty on the subject.

     

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  8.  
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    BTR1701, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:04pm

    Creativity

    > the court found that Turnitin isn't using the
    > papers for their creative meaning

    Since when is "creative meaning" an element of copyright infringement?

    (That's rhetorical-- it's not an element of the violation.)

    This judge seems woefully misinformed on both Contract Law and Copyright Law. He's doing a Judge Judy and replacing the result he desires with the result the law requires.

     

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  9.  
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    Ryan, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Re: Consent?

    Exactly. Not sure about how this would work with a public high school but with a college you are not forced to submit your paper, though you might not receive credit. When you enrolled yourself in the college you agree to their rules and policies. If you don't agree with the rules and of the college then leave or petition to change the rules of the college.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:38pm

    I know this is a little beside the point, but I am honestly curious. I've been to school and I don't understand. What's the big deal? Who cares if they keep your paper?

     

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  11.  
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    Matt, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Consent? not quite

    No, they were simply suing the wrong party is what the judge is saying Ryan. This happens all the time.

    They are free to sue the schools, and I would suspect they will. This is indeed coerced. It's not like this would be the first time that issues of copyright,freedom of speech, privacy etc comes up at a school anyhow.

     

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  12.  
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    ReallyEvilCanine, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Consent? not quite

    While they clearly have a case against the school for unauthorised distribution, I think they also have a case against Turnitin for illegally obtaining and using their works. It could be popcorn time if the universities turn around and sue Turnitin for misleading them into believing the collection, distribution and transfer of students' papers was legal.

     

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  13.  
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    comboman, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:54pm

    I like this ruling

    The MP3s that I download are not copyright infringement; I use them to create a database of music so that I can compare the songs and ensure that the artists are plagiarizing each other. But of course that never happens.

     

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  14.  
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    Eric the Grey, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 1:02pm

    It only goes to show..

    That copyright protection is only valid if you're a big corporation, capable of throwing enough money at a "problem" in order to get your way.

    The little guys loose in the end.

    I'm just glad my school isn't making use of any of these services.


    EtG

     

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  15.  
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    Eric the Grey, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 1:08pm

    Re:

    It's not just a matter of them keeping your paper. Their entire business is based on keeping your paper and comparing it to others. They make money off of the works submitted to them, and don't pay the original creators. Sound familiar?

    Plus, there are times when student papers are picked up for publication in books or anthologies. There IS the potential for the student to make money off of their works. I could see the potential of that being put in jeopardy if turnitin had a copy on file.


    EtG

     

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  16.  
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    It Wasnt me, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 1:25pm

    i don't know it sounds fishy to me.

    the school is submitting an item (term paper in this case) with out the approval of its owner, kind of reminds me with dealing with stolen goods.

    and i know if i have stolen goods the excuse i didn't steel it im just making money out of it is NOT a valid defense/ excuse.

     

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  17.  
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    James, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 1:46pm

    Personally, I don't see the problem. If you are not plagrizing, then you should not worry. Turnitin is not making money by reselling papers or using any creative ideas in the paper (hence, no copyright issue). They are a repository where a computerized analyst (for lack of a better term) is comparing your paper versus papers in its database to ensure there is no plagrism going on.

    If you don't like it then change schools, however considering that plagrism is an increasingly major issue I don't see schools hiring human paper checkers, when a central agency can do the same job.

     

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  18.  
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    Paul, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 2:02pm

    As a student

    I would demand Turnitin to remove the work with a DCMA take down notice, tell them im the origional owner of the work and that it even has my name on it.

    Then they have to prove thay have permission from the copyright holder (me) that I gave the school permission to distrbuite my copyrighted works.

    Now if I have to run it through turnitin myself to get credit then im not quite sure how this works other then what the guy said above.

    "A coerced contract is invalid. "

    Use turnitin or dont get credit sounds like it fits this catagory to me.

     

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  19.  
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    ehrichweiss, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Uhhh,,, Houston? I think we have a pro

    No, that's not entirely true because we're "coerced" into other contracts all the time.

    We are coerced into a contract with the State if we want a license to drive despite the fact that the Constitution states that it is a right(not privilege) to travel; they won't let you ride your horse or a bicycle on the highway even though those are legit modes of travel so if one wants to travel 100 miles or more, you need a car. If you want to fly or ride a bus, you still need identification thanks to yet another contract we didn't want...and to get that identification you have to sign into yet another contract(with unstated terms and conditions I might add).

    And the reason they can get away with it is because you can only be coerced if you are being denied something that you have a Constitutional right to in the first place. You don't have the right to attend a certain school, it's a privilege and if you refuse to abide by their rules, they drop you.

     

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  20.  
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    TBK, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 2:38pm

    Re: It only goes to show..

    "The little guys loose in the end."

    (That should be "lose", as in win or lose, not "loose" as in tight or loose.)

    "I'm just glad my school isn't making use of any of these services."

    (I wish they would have taught you to spell or even how to use a spell check feature!)

    TBK

     

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  21.  
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    ehrichweiss, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Consent? not quite

    Clearly have a case for unauthorized distribution? Not as clear as you might think.

    The place to look is at the contract between the students and the schools. Chances are they're told that in order for their papers to count toward their grade, they have to allow it to be submitted to Turnitin. If that's the case, there's nothing that the students can do except refuse to take any classes that use the Turnitin service because that doesn't fall under the legal definition of coercion since they're not being denied a right granted by the Constitution; privilege: yes, right: no.

     

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  22.  
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    Glyons, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 2:44pm

    Oh get over it.

    Ok. Here is how the system works. Turnitin does not have access to the content of the work. The work yes but not really its content. There is no one at turnitin reading the paper. Copyright is to protect the use of someone creative endeavor from another stealing. If you read the agreements Turnitin makes with universities they state that they do not look at the work. It is an automated system and I doubt the computer cares how you feel about Jane Austin. This is NOT a transfer of ownership. The original creator has an id tag associated with it.

    If you look at it properly, this is proof of creative development should someone later on duplicate your findings there is independent proof of your original development.

    If you're so worried then you should copyright every document you submit to your professors.

     

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  23.  
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    BTR1701, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 3:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Uhhh,,, Houston? I think we have a

    There's so many things legally wrong with your analysis I don't know where to begin.

    But it's all irrelevant anyway because in this case, the judge found that the students *were* coerced. He just decided that it didn't matter, which is a legally erroneous position to take.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 3:52pm

    Re: It only goes to show..

    Perhaps your school should make use of some "teach students some grammar" services, or maybe even just "loose vs. lose" pamphlets or something.

    Sorry, I don't mean to get snooty about language use, but if you're commenting on an academic matter, at least make a little sense...

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Sean, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 4:03pm

    Re: Oh get over it.

    "This is NOT a transfer of ownership"

    In a way I think it is if I turn in an opinion paper this semester on Insurance companies and next semester have a class that I can reuse the paper for I do and 90% will be the same as my original one. If both teachers use turnitin.com the second one will have thought that I copied someones work and used it as my own. So then due to the site I have effectively lost ownership.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Bob, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 6:07pm

    Re: It only goes to show..

    Perhaps you should worry that your school doesn't teach you the difference between "loose" and "lose"?

    loose: not rigidly fastened or securely attached b (1): having worked partly free from attachments (2): having relative freedom of movement c: produced freely and accompanied by raising of mucus d: not tight-fitting

    lose: : to undergo defeat in (For the usage you are apparently intending)

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    CRR, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 7:18pm

    Re: Re: It only goes to show..

    I agree with you completely. I see this error almost every day and it is quite annoying. As is using quite/quiet incorrectly. What is it, 5th grade grammar?

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re:

    They make money off running statistics on papers they keep. So I ask you again--so what?

    I can't see the potential of that being put in jeopardy. Just because turnitin had permission to keep your paper and run statistics on it doesnt mean you can't tons of other things you might want to do with your paper. You think theyre going to publish a compendium of all the millions of papers that have been submitted to them? You think theyre going to look through those millions of papers and study them and find 1000 that are worth publishing?

    Not going to happen. The paranoia surrounding this issue is on par with the most extreme conspiracy theories that I can think of and I still dont understand where its coming from.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re: Re: It only goes to show..

    Doesnt matter how smart you are, old age creeps up on you in the most sneaky ways even as early as your 20s and one of the first kind of senior moments you have are those apalling grammatical mistakes that you know are wrong and youre ashamed to be caught with. I'm sure thats the only problem here.

     

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  30.  
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    Dan, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 9:51am

    My instructor in college insisted that we purchase a subscription to the service and submit our own papers. This was after our campus dropped the service. She just happened to work for the company too. Anyways I was the only one who refused to use the service. I got a D on my paper. I complained to the admin and they basically said that she didn't do anything wrong. The bitch also threatened to sue me because I complained. I was able to drop that class luckily.

    My advice is refuse to use this service. It doesn't matter. They can't fail every student.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 9:58am

    If you follow the money trail with this software it goes high up. Thomson publishing has a major financial connection with this service. They have renamed it "Insight".

    The court was wrong. The service would be useless if it did not have students papers.

    The software really does not work either. It detects any 3 word combination and labels it as plagiarism. For example writing "the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" would flag your paper as plagiarized because you had a 5 word string of plagiarized words.

    Fuck the corrupt universities that use this.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    DanC, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 9:18pm

    Re: Re: Oh get over it.

    the second one will have thought that I copied someones work and used it as my own. So then due to the site I have effectively lost ownership.

    You still haven't lost ownership. A software program that says your paper was plagiarized does not constitute a transfer of ownership. You retain the rights to your work, although turnitin may have decreased the value of your work.

    The court ruled correctly on this issue. The real question is whether or not a university or high school can mandate submitting a paper to turnitin for grading purposes.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Marj, May 17th, 2008 @ 3:37pm

    Re:

    "For example writing "the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" would flag your paper as plagiarized because you had a 5 word string of plagiarized words."

    Turnitin does not identifying anything as plagiarism. It indicates matching text - it takes a human to identify whether the match is unproblematic, sloppy referencing, or plagiarism.

     

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  34.  
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    anti fascist girl, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 3:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Consent? not quite

    Where do you get the idea that the legal definition of coercion must include being denied a constitutional right?
    I don't know for sure, but I don't THINK coercion depends on constitutional rights denial alone. Even if it did, there is a constitutional right to privacy (too long a history and reasoning to recount). THere is also a constitutional right wherein governments are prohibited from arbitrary search and seizure of one's personal papers (see fourth Amendment). Schools are governmental entities, and even colleges are government funded. Also, education is what is called a "positive right" in our country, meaning it is NOT a privilege but an actual right. Moreover, school is not just a right, but a requirement and children do not have the right NOT to attend school. And as far as college goes, if all of them do the same thing, there is no reasonable alternative (you can't just say: "I don't like this, I'll just not turn in my paper and switch scools.") It all adds up to coercion in my book and in any other reasonable person's book.

     

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  35.  
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    anti fascist girl, Dec 16th, 2009 @ 3:54pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    It is an element of copyright infringement to make money from someone else's work without permission. It does NOT MATTER why or how one goes about doing it. That used to be how they decided whether a copyright had been infringed upon- whether or not the borrower made money from it, via an unauthorized use of any kind of someone else's protected work. That was changed by a computer software case, now you can be sued without even profiting in many cases. Also, a copyright is in existence the minute you create a work, without registering it with the copyright office first.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    David, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 7:58pm

    Big business and cash money wins again. A bloated corporate beast like turnitin vs a broke college student.

    Great, now more universities can keep on mandating that their students submit their own work for intellectual theft and copyright infringement. Our education system is nil. This is a mere gimplse into the future of what is to come.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Informed, Apr 8th, 2014 @ 11:38pm

    Re: Re: Uhhh,,, Houston? I think we have a problem.

    Wow, you must be a pure sheeple. Court verdict is not always correct. Turn it in is commercial. Schools can use it only if they pay for its service. This is how Turn it in is actually selling the papers. That is against the copyright law. Court said its for educational purpose. In that case, turn it in should be non profit and not commercial. It looks like some big fish owns the site. That allows him to get away with his crimes. Students should start charging professors who use Turn it in.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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