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Students Sue Anti-Plagiarism Service 713

Posted by Zonk
from the students,-regrettably,-rarely-have-a-lot-of-rights dept.
jazzbazzfazz writes "It seems that some students in Virginia are not happy with the anti-plagiarism service Turnitin. The company checks prose submitted by its customers for signs that it has been copied in whole or part by comparing it to a large database of works that it maintains. Trouble is, it also adds the submitted prose to its files and stores it for use by the company in future scans, which the students feel is illegal use of their copyrighted materials. I think they've got an excellent case, especially since they seem to have prepared for this eventuality: they're A-students, never been accused of plagiarism, and they formally copyrighted their papers prior to their submission to Turnitin."
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Students Sue Anti-Plagiarism Service

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  • by jhfry (829244) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:56PM (#18534643)
    I realize that it does indeed violate their copyright, but as a student, wouldn't you want your paper in their catalog so that some lazy student can't make it through school by plagiarizing YOUR work?

    I don't know about these students, but when I was in school nothing bothered me more than students asking to see my answers, cheat off my tests, or read my essays for 'inspiration'.

    But then again, it is a violation all the same. I say if it bothers them, go for it the law is on their side.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @04:59PM (#18534717) Homepage Journal
    AnyUniversity, USA

    New Student Application

    The undersigned hereby agrees to allow AnyUniversity, henceforth known as "The Univeristy," its employees, officers, and agents, a non-exclusive, perpetual right to store or publish copies of all work submitted for course credit.
  • by sdo1 (213835) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:00PM (#18534727) Journal

    ...and they formally copyrighted their papers prior to their submission to Turnitin.
    What exactly does that mean? I was under the impression that the mere act of creating the work rendered it "copyrighted".

    -S
  • Re:Uh... no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stinerman (812158) <nathan.stine@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:01PM (#18534757) Homepage
    Can you show me a cite that backs up your position or did you just pull that out of your ass? That might be the case in Canada (I noticed the .ca email address), but this is a case in the states.

    I signed no contract in primary or secondary school that said my work is the property of the school, and copyright law has no provision that makes such a theory true. The closest thing that comes to mind is works for hire. And I don't think any copyright attorney would argue such an asinine position.
  • by t0rkm3 (666910) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:01PM (#18534767)
    And the greater question is... Is it an undo burden by the school on the student? Can the school legally force the student to consign their work to the intellectual property of a non-public third party?
  • Re:First Post (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:04PM (#18534821)
    the schoolwork was OBVIOUSLY a work for hire.

    What college pays you to go there?

  • by thebes (663586) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:06PM (#18534869)
    They can't plagiarize your work if you don't give it to them. If someone asks for your solution/paper/answers, just tell them to screw off and figure it out for themselves.
  • You're asking the wrong question. The question is not "why wouldn't you want to deter cheaters from using your work". The question is "why would you want to let other people make money off of deterring cheaters by using your work - without you seeing a penny of the profit".

    In essence, Turnitin is making a good deal of money by using other people's work. If those people want a cut of the proceeds, I don't see a problem with that.
  • Say what?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:06PM (#18534895)

    A "clear case" of fair use? It's copying the entire work, and it's doing it for commercial purposes. That's the worst possible result on two of the four criteria, before we even start on the others.

    And how is this at all the same as Google's book search?

  • by metlin (258108) * on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:11PM (#18534989) Journal
    While I won't repeat what others have said, bear in mind that one of the essays had an explicit notice forbidding them from archiving it, but Turnitin went ahead and did it anyway.

    And secondly, the company is making money using the content from the students.

    How is any of that fair use?

    Not to mention that these systems are used by people assuming that all students cheat, which is bad to begin with. So much for morale.
  • by gillbates (106458) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:11PM (#18534997) Homepage Journal

    So I wonder if these same students consider the "cataloging" and sharing of copyrighted music just as infringing?

    If it isn't infringing to share music via P2P, then why would it be infringing for school staff to share papers? Especially when in the latter case, they are doing it with the explicit purpose of preventing copying of the students work? Presumably, a student who finds his hard work copied by another student would have a copyright infringement case against the other student, provided that it was indeed copied without permission. After all, high school students would never stoop so low as to allow others to copy their work.

    I'm thinking that more than a few of them have downloaded and shared music under the justification of "Maybe I'll buy it later... if I like it." But for some reason, it's only considered copyright infringement when it is their work being copied.

    After all, if it isn't your work being copied, it's sharing, right?

  • Idiots (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:12PM (#18535009)
    In order to use Turnitin, you need to have an account. It's impossible to create an account without being in a Turnitin run class, but I would assume that as part of the account creation you agree to the terms of usage given at http://turnitin.com/static/usage.html [turnitin.com], which includes

    You grant iParadigms a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, world-wide, irrevocable license to reproduce, transmit, display, disclose, and otherwise use your Communications on the Site or elsewhere for our business purposes.
    If they have an objection to the system, they should take it up with their school.
  • Re:Say what?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:13PM (#18535031)

    It's copying the entire work, and it's doing it for commercial purposes.... And how is this at all the same as Google's book search?

    Google book search also copies the entire work, and does it for commercial (advertising) purposes.

    I'm not sure why I had different initial opinions in the two cases (for Google but against Turnitin), but I have to admit the cases are pretty damn similar.

  • by bigbigbison (104532) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:14PM (#18535045) Homepage
    First off, there have been a lot of legal rumblings about google's book search. Google has modified it so that they no longer have the whole book online unless the publisher allows it or it is out of print. If you want your book out of it, there is a way to do so http://books.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answ er=43756&topic=9011 [google.com] Turnitin has no such opt out process.
    Secondly Google offers this as a free service. Although it has ads, there are also links to several book sellers which would allow the person who wrote the book and the publisher to get a sale from it. Turnitin is not a free service. They are directly profiting from the work of college students who do not and cannot see any monetary reward from their work being forcefully included in the turnitin database.
    It doesn't sound the same at all to me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:15PM (#18535059)
    So wait...

    All the rough drafts were ran through the system.
    Then later, the final drafts were ran through the system and came up with collisions.

    Isn't that working as intended? Or was it a class of 500 and only 30 had hits? After all, it wouldn't be a shock that Alice wrote a paper that looked a lot like Alice's rough draft, and Bob wrote a paper that looked a lot like Bob's rough draft and so on.

    I must be missing something!
  • Re:I predict (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:17PM (#18535087)

    I'm an English major and that's pretty much all we do in my classes. If people were cheating I'd have encountered it at least once by now, and I haven't.

    Anybody who's an English major presumably wants to be one because they enjoy writing (due to the "do you want fries with that?" job prospects). Therefore, they wouldn't want to cheat anyway. In contrast, the types of majors that people who care about money rather than the subject go into, like management, probably have a much higher incidence of cheating.

  • by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot.kadin@xoxFREEBSDy.net minus bsd> on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:17PM (#18535095) Homepage Journal
    I don't think the fair use defense is going to hold water. The situations in which you can claim fair use are pretty slim; a for-profit service, who is obviously deriving some economic benefit by using somebody else's copyrighted paper (by adding it to their database) is probably not going to qualify. I'm not sure what harm the students can claim, but if they have any decent lawyers at all, they'll find some way of doing it.

    I actually wouldn't mind if it was covered under Fair Use, because I think that's something we could really do with broadening, but the law as written today wouldn't cover it.

    Now, what I think will happen, is that Turnitin will advise its clients (schools, universities, etc.) that in order to use the service, they must obtain a release from students that includes permission to upload the files. This way, they'll just offload the responsibility for copyright infringement off on the schools, who will just force students to release their work, or refuse to give them a grade.

    I don't think it'll be very long before, when you apply to a college or university, you also sign away all rights to everything you think, say, or do while you're there, in perpetuity, in any medium whatsoever. They'll just make it part of the admissions contract, and that will be it -- at least for private schools and colleges. I'm not sure what legal grounds you would get into with public schools, and whether they could force students to do that or not.

    But I think the students in the Turnitin case, have just as much if not more grounds than the plaintiffs in the similar cases of book publishers vs. Google. (Actually, I think Google has a much better Fair Use defense than Turnitin does.)
  • Re:Uh... no. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:19PM (#18535113)

    Of course, all that's irrelevant because this case concerns public high schools, not universities.

  • by jaxom_01 (720138) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:20PM (#18535129)
    The problem is that the teachers/staff have no rights to give to Turnitin. The students hold all rights to their own works and the students were never asked to agree to those clauses. I think that it is a clear violation of copyright.
  • Hmmm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarcoAtWork (28889) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:24PM (#18535237)
    Given that many, many teachers give out broadly similar assignments all over the country, how many years it will be until most possible ways of talking, say, of what Dante meant in a certain canto in the Inferno, will be in the database and will make it impossible to write a paper without being suspected of plagiarizing? Especially if the system runs with a very low threshold (say, 3-4 words in a row that are the same = plagiarizing)

    It would really be interesting if all the published books on one particular subject (again, say, the Divine Comedy) were submitted to this service and a check was run about just how much 'plagiarizing' and 'original thinking' there is going around...
  • by Radon360 (951529) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:26PM (#18535271)

    ...the professors did, prior to submitting the students' work for cross referencing. How does Turnitin get released when the people suing never consented, or even saw those usage terms?

    What this might end up doing is having a similar type suit brought against the professors and/or University. When the first one gets burned at the stake, the other schools that are taking note will quickly enact policies that would allow them to do this as a condition of attending their institution.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:31PM (#18535353) Homepage
    They may have that right, they may not. But I bet you $10 that right is not TRANSFERABLE to other people, and Turnitin is demanding they transfer that right.
  • Re:I predict (Score:3, Insightful)

    by billsoxs (637329) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:38PM (#18535499) Journal
    I have had students tell me that they suspect someone.... I have then gone and looked for evidence. I have caught students sometimes and sometimes I don't. I do however ask students to let me know - in class. Pointing out that it is in the student's best interest to get rid of cheaters. Cheaters only hurt a school's reputation which in turn hurts a student's BS. Go figure. (I also have a board with 'kills' on it - not unlike a pilot in the air force. The students know what it represents. It does work.)
  • Re:Say what?! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:39PM (#18535525)
    On the other hand, Google redistributes the contents to others, while Turnitin does not. Because of this, Turnitin's use of the content does not decrease the potential monetary value of the work, while Google's use might well hurt the author if someone decides to read selected passages online rather than buying a book. Since monetary damages is one aspect of fair use, Turnitin's use of content might be considered more "fair" in this respect.
  • by zippthorne (748122) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @05:42PM (#18535559) Journal
    Yeah we had this problem at my university, too. No professor wants to be responsible for a student actually being expelled, and for some reason they often assume that the act of plagiarism is limited to solely his own class, so they just fail the student on that assignment or for the class, and it never makes it into the "permanent" record. The school had a grace limit: you wouldn't get expelled on the first (and IIRC, even the second) offense, but that was defeated by all the professors who simply did not report the incident.
  • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:04PM (#18535865)
    I am SO confused. I thought information wanted to be free? I thought we don't mind other people "sharing" data. I thought the person who puts their hands on the digital data is the one who decides what the creator should, or shouldn't be entitled to. I thought the copyright infringer is the one who gets to determine what sort of distribution methods are, or are not viable.

    These students should be plenty happy. They get what they're "entitled" to out of their work: (good) grades. It's just greedy to be concerning yourself with the idea that some commercial entity which enables professors to MORE AFFORDABLY provide you your education (by way of spending less time simply checking for plagiarism) should be forking over some portion of their profits.

    I know this'll be an unpopular viewpoint. Whatever side of copyright infringement a group of young student-types are on at the moment is the "right" one. My mistake.

    When you hit grad-student levels and someone "steals" papers you'd otherwise publish, thereby depriving you of your livelihood, we'll talk. Otherwise hand in your damned homework, get your grades, pass you class, get your degree and go get a job.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:04PM (#18535873)
    The plagiarism checking service keeping a copy of the work does NOT violate the student's copyright. Dictating who can possess a copy of the work is not one of the author's exclusive rights. Once they have a copy, which you presumably consented to giving them, they can do whatever they want with it as long as they don't violate these rights. If they send out a copy of your paper when someone plagiarizes it, THEN they would be violating copyright, but just keeping the paper on file for comparison is the issue at hand here.

    You're missing the point.

    I write the paper. Copyright belongs to me. I give the paper to my teacher. Teacher now has the physical paper, but not copyright. Copyright still belongs to me. Teacher then makes a copy and gives that copy to Turnitin. That is infringement. Turnitin now uses that infringing copy to make money. That can be criminal copyright infringement (in the US).

    If the teacher gave the physical paper to Turnitin, you might have a case.

  • Re:I predict (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrbooze (49713) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:08PM (#18535935)
    My wife is an adjunct professor at a university, and she pretty routinely nails at least 1 or 2 students for blatant plagiarism per class.

    She doesn't use any special software or tools though, it's almost always obvious, such as when a student suddenly starts spelling words correctly they have never spelled right all semester, or using coherent sentence structures, etc, and usually googling a few snippets of the questionable paper turns up the plagiarized sources. (Yes, people just copy/paste from wikipedia and other sources without citing it and try to turn it in as their own.)

    So, basically, this tool kind of sounds like it's more for professors that are too lazy, unobservant, or overworked to actually recognize their own students writing after a whole semester. And I guess for busting the genuinely clever plagiarists who are buying papers all semester long that they know haven't been published elsewhere online.
  • by msblack (191749) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:09PM (#18535949)

    Now, what I think will happen, is that Turnitin will advise its clients (schools, universities, etc.) that in order to use the service, they must obtain a release from students that includes permission to upload the files. This way, they'll just offload the responsibility for copyright infringement off on the schools, who will just force students to release their work, or refuse to give them a grade.
    What you state is already the case. Professors will refuse term papers
    unless submitted through Turn-it-In which provides ample disclaimers.
    Students should be complaining to the school district for forcing them
    to give up rights to their paper. However, this is unlikely to succeed.
    At the University, only faculty own their research. Students and employees
    get no rights. Even student thesis papers belong to the University, not
    the student.

  • Re:Uh... no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:14PM (#18536011) Journal
    If that was the school's argument, it was pretty weak. If the school was in the US, the work could not become the university's property without an explicit written transfer; university policy is not sufficient. Further, even if turning in his own work was technically copyright infringement, it would not be plaigerism. They aren't the same thing. Plaigerism is the use of another's work without giving credit for it. You can plaigerize work in the public domain, and you can infringe copyright while giving full credit.

    Of course, university disciplinary boards aren't known for their attention to fairness and justice, so I'm not surprised.
  • by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:20PM (#18536113)
    It's not fair use if it adversely affects your market, and since your market is students wishing to cheat on their term papers, it's pretty drastic... so there's your damages.

    The market need not be plagiarists, it could just as easily be the market for competing plagiarism detection services.
  • Re:Idiots (Score:2, Insightful)

    by random coward (527722) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:25PM (#18536207)
    Furthermore the children were minors; The license for their works may not be enforceable.
  • by mandelbr0t (1015855) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:34PM (#18536333) Journal
    I simply don't trust these large collections of private information. Who knows what they will do with it? Privacy Policy?

    As we continue to develop our business, we might sell or buy businesses or assets, or Turnitin might be acquired by another company. In any of those circumstances, personal information in our databases may be included among the transferred assets.
    Sweet. There's the loophole. They just have to go out of business or get bought by someone who doesn't have the same privacy policy, and another company has a large sample of your creative work with which to do whatever they want, as long as they don't get caught infringing your copyright.

    I don't trust privacy policies. There's no laws that can be enforced if the company in question violates their own policy, and it's ridiculously hard to prove it even if they did. And, as you can see here, most privacy policies have a not-difficult-to-imagine scenario which would involve complete loss of control of the private information you did provide. I'd like to see more work done on making companies stick to their privacy policies, and large fines or jail time if they don't.
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:39PM (#18536429)
    I don't think the fair use defense is going to hold water.

    I agree...The courts have ruled in several different cases (not a legal scholar so unable to site the specific cases) that copying of an original work (article, essay, book, etc...), or even a critical portion thereof (as demonstrated with Gerald Ford's book concerning the Nixon Pardon), exactly as it was presented in the original work, even for purposes of subsequent commentary, still constitutes infringement of copyright and is not protected under fair use. In addition, due to the efforts of the RIAA over the years, it does not matter if one intends to "redistribute" the work or not (i.e. a copy made to share with your friends for free or even one made for personal use, as in the mixed tape for example), it is *still* copyright infringement. It should be noted that the courts have left it purposefully ambiguous so that each case is decided separately by a judge, but the precedents are strongly against Turnitin for maintaining whole copies of student papers, if indeed that is what they do (cryptographic hashing may be an interesting question if that is also going on), in their database and it doesn't matter if they show those papers to anyone or not, the very fact that there are copies in the database is enough to trigger copyright.

    a for-profit service, who is obviously deriving some economic benefit by using somebody else's copyrighted paper (by adding it to their database) is probably not going to qualify.

    Absolutely...this only adds to the prejudice that any reasonable judge would have against their fair use defense, especially in light of the reasons stated above.

    I actually wouldn't mind if it was covered under Fair Use, because I think that's something we could really do with broadening, but the law as written today wouldn't cover it.

    Perhaps the RIAA will actually write a "friend of the court" brief in support of the students to prevent that from happening (they wouldn't want that type of fair use precedent established in the common law). They say that litigation often makes for some strange bedfellows after all.

    Now, what I think will happen, is that Turnitin will advise its clients (schools, universities, etc.) that in order to use the service, they must obtain a release from students that includes permission to upload the files. This way, they'll just offload the responsibility for copyright infringement off on the schools, who will just force students to release their work, or refuse to give them a grade.

    I am not sure if the students can be compelled to do that since it could be argued that they entered into the contract under duress of not getting a grade and thus a degree. Even if this is effective, it would only prevent future claims, but the ones currently working their way through the system would still be valid and thanks to the RIAA the price per infringement is quite high, on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars per infringement which could make for a fairly spectacular judgment or at least a hefty settlement (bye bye student loans).

    I don't think it'll be very long before, when you apply to a college or university, you also sign away all rights to everything you think, say, or do while you're there, in perpetuity, in any medium whatsoever.

    Contract law is not omnipotent, if they make the contract overly broad then the contract can be dissolved by the courts or at the very least, assuming the contract is well written, the offending parts could be severed from the agreement (the court decides which language is struck) and dissolved while leaving the remainder of the contract, if anything does remain, intact.

    But I think the students in the Turnitin case, have just as much if not more grounds than the plaintiffs in the similar cases of book publishers vs. Google. (Actually, I think Google has a much better Fair Use defense than Turnitin does.)

    The students do indeed have a stron
  • Re:Normalize. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ADRA (37398) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:39PM (#18536449)
    "but doesn't create a hugely cutthroat competition in the upper echelons of a class"

    Maybe I missed something, but I thought we were trying to teach our children something positive. Do we really want to raise our kids to be even more confrontational, aggressive, mean spirited and anti-social? I would say no.

    As an aside to this, I went to a polytechnic that involved a large number of randomly assigned group projects. Basically this threw the successful and underachievers into the same bucket. This whole exercise was basically meant to neutralize a self performance based metric into a group based success role. Teams that did well with each-other would always do better than mavericks, no matter how talented they were. The team working really gave a reflective picture of how you deal with people after those years of school are long over with. You have some who slack off and bring the group down. You have others that push hard to get their work done. Now the onus was on group members to either lift or tear apart each other.

    And isn't that whats really important? We plagiarize through life, most of the time we never even think of the backs we're standing on. I would rather deal with solving the problem in a more creative way (like heavy group projects) instead of using technological means to force you to succeed. Some people will never 'succeed' in the way that society places on them. Are they worthless? If so, then we're not making very good use of our resources now, are we?

    I you just can't implement something like the above and plagiarism is 'rampant', I see nothing wrong with an anti-plagiarism system as long as there are processes to deal with false positives and that everyone involved knows that it exists.
  • by tres3 (594716) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @06:59PM (#18536729) Homepage
    Now where this will get interesting is that as high school students they are still underage and as such cannot enter into a legal agreement without the consent of their parents (or guardian but that is usually the parents) so the school can try to force this on the students but it wouldn't be binding. Now what happens if the student is a ward of the state? If the state forces them to sign away their rights to personal property that can be considered a taking and subject to eminent domain or reimbursement by the government. In fact that argument could probably be extended to any public school or university that demands that you sign it over to get a grade. the government simply cannot take private property without reimbursement.
  • Re:Uh... no. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Squirmy McPhee (856939) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @07:06PM (#18536793)

    Two papers I wrote as a phd student are now behind pay for access portals, where they charge $30 for a single copy, or a subscription.

    Do I get a penny of this? Nope, and do I get free access as the Author? Nope.

    Nor are you entitled to that, regardless of whether you hold the copyright. The copyright only applies to the text, tables, and figures you submitted, not the typeset and printed pages that the journal produces. Authors of books and magazine articles often retain the copyrights to their works, but many of them don't get free copies of their books or articles. That said, many academic journals provide authors with a certain number of reprints. Apparently not the one you were published in....

    Did they ask for my permission? Nope.

    Sure they did, and you granted it when you agreed to let them publish it. You did give them permission to publish it, didn't you? If you wanted to get paid for it, you should have submitted it to a publication that pays its authors. Academic publications generally don't do that, though, and I suspect you knew that when you chose to publish there. Presumably, the value you received from publishing without compensation was greater than the value you would have received from publishing elsewhere or not publishing at all -- otherwise, why did you let them publish it?

    Its the standard way papers are distributed in the academic world. I think it's unfair as it stands, although I recognise they have some need to recoup their storage/indexing costs.

    Why is it unfair? Academic journals have a small audience interested in reading their publications and ethical considerations that prohibit them from accepting advertising. Furthermore, they have an enormous pool of authors who are willing to provide them content without compensation (because for those authors, publishing is a means to an end, not a living unto itself). They have absolutely no incentive to pay you or give you anything for free, and a rather large disincentive to do so. I happen to think there are a lot of things wrong with academic publishing, but this is not one of them. The more they have to give to their authors, the fewer papers they can afford to publish and the harder it will be to get published. If your graduation is delayed because you're having a hard time getting published, that's going to cost you a whole lot more than you would ever get in compensation for your paper.

    As for the true scope of the permissions you granted them, if they published your article then I'm certain you and/or your co-author(s) signed something granting them permission to do so (or otherwise provided legally binding consent). If not, they had no right to publish the article in the first place. I also suspect that if you read the fine print wherever your consent is recorded that you granted them all rights to the article, as academic journals typically require. That means that not only did you give them permission to publish the article, but you also assigned the copyright on the article to the publisher. That means they can do with it as they wish, including publishing it elsewhere without your permission. It also means that if you ever want to re-publish the article elsewhere (even your own dissertation), you need to ask the original publisher for permission even though you are the author. Don't like it? Don't assign them all rights. Sure, that means they probably won't publish it, but when they've got 10 other people willing to take your place in the journal why should they care?

    By the way, it's not just academic authors who have to deal with this -- there are a fair number of mainstream publications that will only buy all rights. Of course, they buy them, meaning the authors are monetarily compensated, but then they're dealing with professional writers and attempting to attract an entirely different sort of author than academic journals are. Magazines with high-quality articles, of course, tend to pay well and agree to buy one-time publication rights only because that's what attracts the best writers, but the academic market is a completely different story.

  • by xeoron (639412) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @07:37PM (#18537125) Homepage
    My few cents: This still would not cover them storing copies of papers and other content from their webcrawlers. I have no problem search-engines storing my work in a search-cache, but I do not like turnitin holding copies of my work, and so far their webcrawlers still do not comply with a my sites htaccess, nor offer a easy way to contact them to stop indexing a site and purge copies they stored within their database via their own website. I suppose I could configure a webserver to ban their spiders, but I really should not have to do that.
  • Re:Horrible system (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @07:59PM (#18537357)
    > asking us to turn in all of our rough drafts

    What is this thing of which you speak, "rough draft"? Back when papers were written on typewriters, there were discrete drafts that were marked up with a red marker, corrected and re-typed. But how do you divide the hundred thousand edits to a Word document into drafts? Is the difference between one draft and the next just that you decided to change one punctuation mark, or change a header's font size?
  • by Phisbut (761268) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:06PM (#18537445)

    Yes, I would think that schoolwork is "work for hire" and would be property of the school...

    The student pays to go to school, not the other way around. Students hire teachers to teach them. I don't see how turning in a paper becomes "work for hire".

  • Re:I predict (Score:3, Insightful)

    by numatrix (242325) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:17PM (#18537543)

    While I generally agree with what you wrote, I think you either misspoke or have a misunderstanding of copyright.

    Technically, it's illegal to take a fact without citing it

    Facts can't be copyrighted. For my citation, see any commonly accepted explanation of copyright ever written. Given that, I have no idea how you can conclude that it's illegal to take a fact without citing it.

    Maybe you're not talking about copyright, but rather common courtesy and the standards of research that most professions self-police themselves with? If so, it's got nothing to do with law.

  • by MvD_Moscow (738107) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:53PM (#18537811)
    Your taking a slightly one sided view, no?

    The point isn't about whether it subverts the educational process or not (I would agree with you that in this particular case, the students (the ones that don't cheat) have nothing to benefit from by shutting down turnitin), it's about how you apply copyrights. If a government implements a copyright system it should work for everyone, not just RIAA and the corporations. This means that the same rules apply to "pot-smoking communist students" as they do our corporate overlords.

    If you are willing to make the benefits of copyright applicable only to one set of people/organizations, then there is nothing morally wrong with pillaging the seas for mp3s.

    Your statement about value is even more stupid. I could argue that Britney Spears' shit (that corporations try to present as music) has no inherent value and it no way satisfies the requirement that copyrights were created for. To function (both in a legal and moral sense) copyrights have to be universal, it doesn't matter if I write a poem about how great pot is or compose a piece of music that changes the world, both these products have the exact same rights when it comes to getting copyrights.

    If anything, you're just underlining how artificial and pointless copyrights (especially in their current form and with the development of digital technologies) are. They are not real, like corporations they are an artificial construct that were initiated in hope that it would benefit society overall.

    You statements about inspiration from discussions is also lame. You would not be able to copyright the vast majority of mainstream music. After all, most of "gangsta rap" is represented by identical carbon copies. Add "bitches/bentlies" to the videos and "cash, money" and " Ima G" lyrics. What about the black cop/white cop formula used by many cop movies?

    Copyright is not sustainable in it's current form and the fact that there is an issue around turnitin underlines this fact.
  • by zCyl (14362) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:03PM (#18537903)

    The general principle that universities use is that anything you turn in, you assign copyright to the university.

    By "general principle" I think you mean someone in a university legal department made this up. Since there is no student salary, this is clearly not a work done for hire. So show me a legally enforceable document that students sign which actually transfers this ownership.
  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:10PM (#18537945)

    The general principle that universities use is that anything you turn in, you assign copyright to the university.
    Bullshit. I never heard of a uni require a student to sign a copyright assignment agreement. nor did I sign one.

    This means the instructor can use turnitin without violating copyright law.
    Um no. Not without a signed legal document.

    Is it right to require students to give up copyright over their own work?
    No.

    I don't agree with it, but it's not unreasonable.
    Glad you don't agree, but it IS unreasonable. Imagine a "writer" teaching a literature class and snaging ideas from a few good students papers. Is that right? Aside from this potential abuse, is there ANY legitimate reason to require a student to assign copyright to the school? Just remember that the school doesn't have a place where they archive all these exciting papers they get. The prof normally grades then and gives them back.

    Most assignments are similar to "work for hire", written to a specification of someone else for a particular purpose (in this case, grading).
    Back to Bullshit again. No one is paying the student. In fact, the student is paying for an education.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:41PM (#18538193)
    Most assignments are similar to "work for hire", written to a specification of someone else for a particular purpose

    Except for, you know, actually being paid to do the work.
  • Re:I predict (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ect5150 (700619) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:49PM (#18538249) Journal
    Why is it I see just as many Comp Sci students copying code from a site online as I do in the business classes? Cheating is across the board and is not dependent upon a given 'major,' ... we're talking about a persons morals and values, not where their interests lie.
  • by trentblase (717954) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:52PM (#18538279)
    I doubt these students are actually the ones who would plagiarize. Nothing in copyright law prevents the service from checking their papers against others for plagiarism. But it does (or should) prevent the service from STORING copies of the papers submitted without permission. And the key here is permission. If the service wants to make money off these papers, they can BUY permission from the students. It doesn't even have to be monetary compensation: you'd be surprised how many students would let the service keep their papers for a few "points" per paper, which gets them a t-shirt with X points. The point here, is that the students are given the choice. And there is economic value in their papers, because the service is using it to sell a product. This company is not "the only possible way" to make money on papers, either. For example, the student could sell (or license) his paper to a lower classman. This may be immoral, or violate an honor code, even get the student expelled, but it is generally not illegal. And therefore it's a viable alternate source of revenue. With regard to teacher input, they are already getting paid to help the students write the papers. They have a union, and would be free to renegotiate the terms of their employment if they actually want rights to these papers. Either way, it's a separate issue.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:02PM (#18538371) Journal

    These students should be plenty happy. They get what they're "entitled" to out of their work: (good) grades.
    They're entitled to be the sole owner of the copyright on any and all of their work that are not created for hire.

    When you hit grad-student levels and someone "steals" papers you'd otherwise publish, thereby depriving you of your livelihood, we'll talk. Otherwise hand in your damned homework, get your grades, pass you class, get your degree and go get a job.
    When you hit adulthood and someone "steals" rights you'd otherwise use, thereby depriving you of your livelihood, we'll talk.

    I'm not going to bother kludging together something for the second sentance.

    Suffice it to say that your argument is based on a premise along the lines of "it's not like you were using those rights anyways." Personally, I find that argument fallacious and take offense when people use it.

    What if every student submitted every paper they wrote to the Copyright Office?
    Would you also tell them to stfu and gbtw?
  • Re:Say what?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RedWizzard (192002) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:12PM (#18538457)

    But Google Book Search allows publishers to contact them to opt out. This service does not.
    Irrelevant. Saying "you could have told us not to" or "you could have asked us to cease and desist" is not a defense against copyright infringement. Otherwise I could copy DVDs to my hearts content and defend myself from prosecution by simply giving the publishers a chance to opt out. That is not going to hold up in court.
  • by mindtriggerz (914619) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:24PM (#18538539)
    Before I signed up for a TurnItIn.com account, I read the Terms of Service and all other disclaimers, and NONE of them stated that I was giving them a license to use or archive my work beyond that of fair use.
    Seems pretty cut and dry to me: They didn't ask for a license, I did not grant them a license, thus they are infringing.
  • Re:I predict (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Internalist (928097) <fred.mailhot@CHEETAHgmail.com minus cat> on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:47PM (#18538717) Homepage

    [...] the types of majors that people who care about money rather than the subject go into, like computer science probably have a much higher incidence of cheating.
    Fixed that for you.

    (For the record, I took Computer Science at McGill. It's a good program. Cheating was rampant)
  • Re:I predict (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @11:05PM (#18538855) Journal
    'Grade inflation in American universities is insane. Any cause to grade more strictly would only help even it out.'

    That isn't my experience at all. My experience is that my grades on papers had little relation to the quality of the paper and a great deal of relation to whether or not what I wrote was what the professor wanted to hear. There were professors who had an unspoken list of criteria for a paper and you could have the most well-thought, insightful, creative, and firmly cited paper and it wouldn't matter. Only the criteria.

    In other cases I have seen brilliant papers thrashed for minor spelling and grammar errors. I am talking about papers submitted in Science and Philosophy courses not English and Literature related courses.

    My favorite are the Republican and Christian professors who give poor grades on papers that challenge their Christian teachings, the importance of Christian philosophy, etc.

    I am a very stubborn and uncompromising individual. When I encountered professors who exhibited these behaviors I'd just drop the class (warning, that isn't cheap especially if you don't catch on to the problem early) and take the same course under a different professor. Miraculously dodging these bunk academics left me with a 4.0 on a 4.0 scale.

  • Unless the research is from government funding. All of my funding comes from the NSF or NIST, and since the money is taxpayer's money research that comes from it cannot be copywritten. So in addition to giving the Journal the transfer-of-copyright form, I also send them a form that says technically I have no copyright to transfer to them.

    This is very interesting -- I've always thought that this should be how it works, but I wasn't clear whether Government-funded research went into the public domain or what. It certainly seems like nothing but a big fat handout to the journal publishers, if billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded research are just turned over to them by scientists trying to get their papers in print.
  • by happyemoticon (543015) on Friday March 30, 2007 @02:01AM (#18540031) Homepage

    At the University of California, the same applies. A work is not the property of the University unless they sponsor, commission, or contract it: http://www.ucop.edu/ucophome/coordrev/policy/8-19- 92att.html [ucop.edu] .

    And just to riff off of the general subject, I think it's absurd to demand that students' papers be put in some company's database. Colleges and corporations alike have not hereto proven the most responsible or effective guardians of people's valuable personal information. These policies also take a stance which tacitly assumes that students are cheaters. And just like any good witch hunt, if you have a problem with it, people start wondering what you have to hide.

  • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday March 30, 2007 @04:18AM (#18540573) Journal
    Ah, ideal world utopias... how cute.

    Let me tell you about those group assignments: _no_ university, college, or polytechnic _ever_ had assignments complex enough and under enough time pressure to actually _require_ cooperation. They're simple stuff doable by average students, who've been given 20x the necessary time for either to do it on his own. A really good student tends to plough through that assignment in an afternoon or two... and usually ends up having to.

    What really happens in those groups is that you end up teamed with various clones of Wally (from the Dilbert comics), who can't be arsed to do _anything_ for the project.

    E.g., take it from experience, in the first year in college I ended up having pretty much my own sidekick, sorta like Batman and Robin. His claim to glory was looking over my shoulder when I was at a computer in the lab. Now I don't think I was some kind of genius, but somehow I ended up with some "the great Moraelin" kinda reputation pretty fast. This guy ended up being "the great Wally" because he was with me all the time, so people _assumed_ some kind of teamwork was involved. It looked like pair programming, I guess, although that guy never actually offered any actual advice or information or ever coded anything for that matter.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm a nerd, so I'll take any kind of popularity or friend, if it's available. I didn't mind having my own fan following around.

    By the time we get our first group assignment, it seemed only natural to pair him with me. After all, everyone could swear that we're already such a great team. Let me tell you, the guy did _nothing_. Admittedly, I did do a stunt and come up with a far more grandiose idea than the professor wanted to give our team. (Hey, I must keep that "the great Moraelin" reputation.) But I asked him to do only some small trivial parts of it, merely token so I can say with a straight face that he did something too. To get an idea, by the end I had reduced it to asking him to write a function that draws two perpendicular lines on the screen. _That_ trivial. He didn't even do that. In fact other than reassuring me that he's working on it and almost ready, he didn't do anything at all. I ended up writing it all by myself.

    The same theme repeated throughout college, even if with different people. I still wonder what had happened to my first sidekick. I think he wasn't around any more by the next year. No problem, I got other sidekicks. I even had a sorta girlfriend based on just doing her assignments too. She never even saw the program when we were teamed for such a group assignment, until we presented it to the professor. Wasn't interested in seeing it either. (And tbh, it didn't bother me much:) Smart girl otherwise, mind you, but, you know, why bother working when someone else can do all your assignments?

    Getting teamed with another guy on another occasion, well, got me another guy pretending to be my best friend. He did at least paint about two pages of flowcharts after the fact, though, before getting bored with that too. In the meantime the "girlfriend" had been teamed up with someone else, but, hey, I got to do their work too, although I wasn't on their team.

    So basically, please spare me the bull about learning to function in a team. I've yet to see even one team in college which actually worked as a team. Invariably it was one "maverick" doing all the work, and a bunch of Wallys doing little more than moral support, if even that.

    Well, ok, so it may be a useful lesson for later. I was reading a study that said that about 3 out of 4 programmers can't actually program, or don't program, and just find some way or another to live as parasites off others. Ranging from "oh, you're my best friend, please help me", to taking all credit and trying to discredit the real worker to the boss, to being the boss's personal pet, to God knows what other creative ways. Yeah, you can get used to that kind of people in those group assignments, but that's about it.

    But even that's not as useful as you may think. Yeah, it taught some of us geeks to be "good team players", meaning: to not mind a Wally just hanging around and taking credit. But it also taught whole generations of Wallys that that's one way to get the job done.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp

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