Plagiarism Checker Sued For Copyright Infringement

from the irony-or-accuracy dept

Back in 2002 there was some discussion over whether or not, Turnitin, a popular plagiarism checker that many schools and universities use, was violating students' copyrights. The program worked by comparing any uploaded works to a large database of previous works. However, it would then add those new works to the larger database. Many students began to question not just why they were being treated as criminals first, but also why Turnitin was allowed to use their content in its database without first licensing the works from the students. While there had been occasional stories wondering something similar over the past few years, now it appears that two high school students have decided to step up and sue the company for copyright infringement. This could get interesting for a variety of reasons. The students clearly thought this out ahead of time -- registering the copyright on the papers, which gives them the ability to sue for statutory damages, rather than just be made whole. At least one also had explicit instructions in the paper that it not be included in the Turnitin database -- and those instructions were ignored. If Turnitin has registered under the DMCA, they could potentially claim safe harbor provisions (a la YouTube), pushing off the liability to the teachers and professors who actually uploaded the works, rather than Turnitin itself. However, it's not clear if the company will go that route or just claim that it's use isn't infringing at all. Either way, this should be an interesting case to follow.

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  1. identicon
    Neal, 30 Mar 2007 @ 7:23pm

    Copyright?

    I'm not sure I see how copyright law comes in to play here. They aren't making copies of the students' works and they aren't distributing the students' works.

    Yes, I know they have the one electronic copy stored in their database, but it was provided to them by someone either acting with the authority to do so (or liable for the act) and they're merely comparing other works to it.

    It seems it would be easy to argue that they're doing far more, by orders of magnitude, to protect copyright than they are violating it and I suspect any moderately intelligent judge will see it that way.

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