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
    Xiera, 1 Apr 2007 @ 11:28am

    Very fun, indeed

    I won't get into the potential problems of having your university own rights to your work for classes. This seems to be explicitly stated by most universities. BUT, my high school, for example, did NOT explicitly state this. They, therefore, have no legal right to my work for classes there.

    In this case, I think it would be safe to assume that if the students were keen enough to copyright their materials before submitting them for grades, they would have ensured that their school does NOT have the aforementioned ownership policy.

    The facts:
    - The students own the copyright.
    - They create one copy of their work.
    - They distributed this copy to their teacher for the purpose of grading.
    - They did NOT distribute their work to Turnitin and specifically noted that this particular work was NOT to be added to the Turnitin database.
    - The same work appears in the Turnitin database.

    Now, one of two things would be logical:
    - Turnitin created the copy of the material illegally and should be held responsible for doing so.
    - The teacher distributed the material illegally and should be held responsible for doing so.

    In all honesty, BOTH should be held responsible, as they both partook in the illegal activity.

    Regardless of who is held responsible, if these two students are successful, we'll see an increasing number of intelligent students copyrighting their works and an increasing number of high schools adding a policy of ownership over student works.

    Again, we won't mention the possible creativity issues with schools and universities obtaining ownership over student works.

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