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
    jon, 31 Mar 2007 @ 5:45am

    Last I checked a minor (most high school students are minors) can't enter into a legal contract. But that is beside the point. I know I never had any such contract (I'd love to see one). I think you are all getting copyright and intellectual property confused.

    And the major problem with Neal's idea is that implied or "understood" contracts don't work as he suggests. Contracts can be written or verbal, but I'd like to see anyone try to argue to a judge that there was an unwritten/unspoken contract in this case. They only work in extreme circumstances. That is the reason that the contracts he writes about exist (and they only say they own the intellectual property, not the copyright, which is the issue here). If there isn't one the employer doesn't have squat.

    I don't think that school owns the works submitted for a grade. The schools do own the intellectual property —the stuff you discover by using there teachers and equipment— but not the copyright. That is why every teacher I've ever met needs permission before republishing a student's work.

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