Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Courts Government Education News

Fair Use Affirmed In Turnitin Case 315

Posted by timothy
from the sensing-sensibility dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion affirming a ruling that will be cheered by digital fair use proponents for allowing a fair use of students' work when their teachers electronically file students' written work with the turnitin.com Web site so that newly submitted work can be compared against Turnitin's database of existing student work to assess whether the new work is the result of plagiarism. The court stepped through the fair use analysis, dropping positive notes that affirm commercial uses can be fair uses, that a use can be transformative 'in function or purpose without altering or actually adding to the original work,' and that the entirety of a work can be used without precluding a finding of fair use. Techdirt suggests that all of these points could have been helpful to Google in defending its book scanning efforts, 'since it could make pretty much the identical arguments on all points.' Unfortunately Google caved in that lawsuit and settled, 'denying a strong fair use precedent and making Google look like an easy place for struggling industries to demand cash.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Fair Use Affirmed In Turnitin Case

Comments Filter:
  • by Random BedHead Ed (602081) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:03PM (#27663899) Homepage Journal
    This is extremely bad news for lazy students everywhere. Won't someone please think of the plagiarists? :)
    • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:18PM (#27664137) Journal
      This is extremely bad news for lazy students everywhere. Won't someone please think of the plagiarists? :)
    • by pwizard2 (920421) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:18PM (#27664151)
      It's not so much laziness that I'm concerned about. Students who plagarize deserve to be punished. The real issue is that if Turnitin can make a profit of of other people's work under fair use, then that basically means that students have no IP right and that students are guilty until proven innocent. Back when I was a student, I saw the use of turnitin as a major lack of respect towards me, and I refused to submit my work to it on principle. Since I had never done anything wrong in regards to plagarism, most of my instructors understood and didn't hold it against me.
      • by LotsOfPhil (982823) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:33PM (#27664493)
        "guilty until proven innocent" is a bit of a stretch. The instructor is (at first) only checking. Does any act of investigation presume guilt?
        • Yeah, it's brought in with good intentions - to flag suspicious work for manual review. In practice I imagine it would slip to being used as a lazy shortcut to banhammer students with no recourse or appeal. Other posters will probably fill in the examples.

        • by pwizard2 (920421)
          I think it does. There should be no reason to assume plagarism unless something about a specific paper calls it into suspicion. Certainly no disciplinary action should be taken unless plagarism can be proven. There should normally be an assumed level of trust between an instructor and his/her students. My point is, if a student feels that the instructor doesn't trust him/her to be honest on an assignment, how can he/she in turn trust that instructor to be fair in other things?
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by zolltron (863074)

            Certainly no disciplinary action should be taken unless plagarism can be proven.

            Turnitin is not disciplinary action. If the turnitin report comes back indicating plagarism, then the instructor investigates using the turnitin report and then takes disciplinary action. Many papers come back flagged by turnitin, but they are often false positives (quotations, commonly used phrases, etc.) Any university that doesn't require some additional effort on the part of the instructor is a joke.

            My point is, if a student feels that the instructor doesn't trust him/her to be honest on an assignment, how can he/she in turn trust that instructor to be fair in other things?

            That's a bit of leap in logic. For the sake of argument, suppose that requiring turnitin.com submissi

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by LotsOfPhil (982823)
            Certainly trust between student and teacher is important. I don't agree with you that checking (just checking) for dishonesty assumes that the instructor thinks the student is dishonest.
            If the instructor reads a paper and thinks "that is very similar to one I got last semester" then it is okay for him to check, do you agree? (this would be the "something about a specific paper calls it into suspicion" part). So the instructors brain can run the diff command. But if the instructor automates the process and
            • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:49PM (#27665763)

              If the instructor is reading my paper with the intent of 'diff'-ing it against previous works, no matter what the mechanism, then the trust has already been destroyed. The paper should be read for content, clarity, etc., and if, during that process, something jumps out as familiar or unusual for a certain student's typical work, then there's grounds for further investigation.

              By analogy: Let's say girls have cheated on me in the past, and I decided that I would really prefer that didn't occur again, so I'm now regularly searching my new girlfriend's e-mail/phone for incriminating messages. I'd say our relationship is already in a sad state, and it barely even matters if she's actually cheating or not. The trust was broken long before I logged on---and not because of anything she did. That's TurnItIn.

              On the other hand, if I just grab her phone to make a call and find a risque incoming text, then I might have a reason for further exploration now, but prior to this incident, I believed her to be faithful/innocent and our relationship was better. Could I have lessened this heartache if I had taken the hypervigilant/assumed-cheater route? To some extent, but you can see how this approach destroys any hope of a trust-based relationship, even in the case where my girlfriend is trustworthy.

              I've chosen an emotionally-charged scenario (love) to illustrate the point; the trust between student and teachers serves a more subtle purpose. And yes, I'm arguing that it's okay to let a few crooks slip through if grabbing them all means implicitly accusing everyone. I just don't buy that you gain a whole lot by going to all this effort to catch plagiarists (they tend to catch themselves eventually). But you do lose something . . . something that's about as hard to put into words as it is important.

              • by Anonymous Coward

                Let me just chime in here as a university lecturer who has papers turned in to him. I am posting anon, just in case my employer finds out and doesn't agree with me.

                I agree that there is a very uncomfortable lack-of-trust issue here, and I would resist ever using such a system to check for plagiarism. When someone hands me something, I don't assume it's plagiarized; I assume that, provided the paper doesn't represent some sudden jump in writing ability or knowledge of the subject, that person wrote it. W

        • by ajs (35943) <ajs AT ajs DOT com> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:02PM (#27665031) Homepage Journal

          "guilty until proven innocent" is a bit of a stretch. The instructor is (at first) only checking. Does any act of investigation presume guilt?

          There are a great many forms of investigation that we don't allow in criminal cases, for example, unless there is some justification for the suspicion of guilt. For example, you can't just stop random people on the street and search their belongings for illegal items.

          I we apply the same logic, here (mind you, teachers aren't law enforcement, so they're not bound by the same rules), then you would ask teachers to refrain from using such tools without a reasonable suspicion of guilt (e.g. a paper doesn't match the voice of its author or a paper is very familiar to the teacher).

          I never liked the idea of punishing students for plagiarism, though. I'd much rather that teachers/professors combine approaches to teaching so that plagiarism gains you nothing without the same hard work that everyone else puts in. IMHO, if turning in a paper that someone else wrote can get me a good grade, that's just a sign that the course wasn't actually teaching anything in the first place, but merely hoping that exposure to the material would magically lead to education of the students.

          Good teachers rely on a suite of metrics to gauge student progress and adjust the curriculum to suit. Bad teachers "plagiarize" in the sense that they just deliver the material they were given and grade papers/tests on the basis of their comparison to a hypothetical ideal.

          • by LotsOfPhil (982823) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:21PM (#27665337)

            There are a great many forms of investigation that we don't allow in criminal cases, for example, unless there is some justification for the suspicion of guilt. For example, you can't just stop random people on the street and search their belongings for illegal items.

            What I meant was "do all acts of investigation assume guilt?" The answer is no. When you get pulled over and the officer runs your license, she isn't implicitly saying "I KNOW you have outstanding warrants!" She is just checking and that isn't a breach of trust. When the instructor runs papers through turnitin, they aren't saying "I KNOW you cheated on this!". He is just checking and that isn't a breach of trust. At least that's how I feel about it.

          • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @04:32PM (#27666361) Homepage

            That isn't realistic. Teachers teach the same thing for multiple semesters. There's no way to make it so that a paper from one class in one semester is not equally valid in another class in another semester.

            Okay, with SOME classes that is possible, but not very many.

          • by dcollins (135727) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @04:41PM (#27666513) Homepage

            IMHO, if turning in a paper that someone else wrote can get me a good grade, that's just a sign that the course wasn't actually teaching anything in the first place, but merely hoping that exposure to the material would magically lead to education of the students.

            Good teachers rely on a suite of metrics to gauge student progress and adjust the curriculum to suit. Bad teachers "plagiarize" in the sense that they just deliver the material they were given and grade papers/tests on the basis of their comparison to a hypothetical ideal.

            That is some of the purest, most complete bullshit that I've read in a good long time.

        • "guilty until proven innocent" is a bit of a stretch. The instructor is (at first) only checking. Does any act of investigation presume guilt?

          Depends on your definition of investigation.
          Checking a person's background does not presume guilt - it is why "we" keep records about people in the first place.
          (One might argue about pervasiveness of recording keeping, but that is a separate and distinct issue.)

          Blanket drug testing, on the other hand, is a presumption of guilt because there is no reason for suspicion but you must actively disprove that suspicion by submitting to a test.

          Similarly, I believe that turnitin's testing is also a presumption of gu

      • The students retain every IP right, but Turnitin is not doing anything wrong under copyright law - they never distribute the work.
        • The students don't get the right to choose what's done with the work once it's submitted. Maybe I want my work to be checked for plagiarism, but not used to check on in the future.
        • by pwizard2 (920421)

          The students retain every IP right, but Turnitin is not doing anything wrong under copyright law - they never distribute the work.

          Are students able to take their work down if they want to? Can they do so with a DMCA notice? (I'm not sure if that would be applicable since students have to personally submit their own work, often under coercion) I also checked the turnitin student manual... it goes into detail about how to submit work, but nothing about taking it down. Another problem is that turnitin is abl

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "Back when I was a student, I saw the use of turnitin as a major lack of respect towards me, and I refused to submit my work to it on principle."

        Of course it indicates a major lack of respect to do that without permission. That's why I'd make my intention clear on the course syllabus, and ask the student to sign for permission. It doesn't really matter if it is something fancy like turnitin or simply a file cabinet full of photocopies of old papers or a disk full of text files and grep. If the student do

      • Thank you. I'm only responding because you're already +5.

        I've ran into this issue in all of my ENGL / LCC / ... classes at Georgia Tech, but unfortunately had to submit them to turnitin.com still. I completely agree with you. I used your argument and even took it so far (once) to argue that I don't care if people plagiarize my work. Don't I have that right over my own work? To say that people can use it in their future papers, even without citation?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Yokaze (70883)

        > The real issue is that if Turnitin can make a profit of of other people's work under fair use, then that basically means that students have no IP right [...]

        I disagree. TurnItIns work derived of the students is not identifiable as the students work itself. Not even remotely, as the work TurnItIn provides is a totally different one than the student did.

        And no, it doesn't mean that they don't have IP rights, the students have the same IP rights everyone else has on a published work. Which means not all e

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Saysys (976276)
        I got screwed in a graduate course by turnitin because i used CIA world fact book to source my variables and instead of, after each variable, writing the exact same source I did so after all of the variables.

        long story short, the stupid machine said i stole my stuff from some other web-page that mirrors fact-book and i got a C in the grad course.
      • I'm only half kidding here - we need a shrink-wrap EULA for student papers that prevent this use of our intellectual property. In university they might have better standing to say "agree to it or get out", but in public schools I'm sure you could find a way to restrict use of your papers for the "originally intended purpose only" - i.e. grading me.

        MadCow.

    • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:28PM (#27664381)

      It also seems quite ironic that they have a fair use right to the full work for the goal in enforcing that no one else can reuse even the smallest snippet.

  • Google != Turnitin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:09PM (#27664009)

    There is a significant difference in what Google was doing with books, where its stated purpose was to provide excerpts (chapters usually) of the book itself.

    Turnitin allows automated computerized determination of direct plagiarism, without providing the content to other people.

    In the final confrontation with the alleged plagiarist the teacher would probably have to have the original work in hand, but for the analysis portion no human need see either the new or the old work.

     

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by UnknowingFool (672806)
      This case is not an exact copy of Google's issue but it helps Google. This case helps establish that using all of a work may still be considered Fair Use. Since Google was only using part of a work and mostly for excerpts they now have much more legal support by citing a precedent. Google probably folded originally because there were no precedents. When building a legal argument it helps to have precedents of similar cases or related cases. Many times there are not exact cases that have been decided, e
    • by DrLang21 (900992) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:23PM (#27664255)

      In the final confrontation with the alleged plagiarist the teacher would probably have to have the original work in hand

      Then what is the purpose of Turnitin? If the teacher cannot obtain a copy of the original without the original author's permission, then how can they make an accusation? Will Turnitin charge for a copy of the original? Will they only distribute the original with the author's consent?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        That's a great idea. I'd willing submit my old papers to TurnItIn, then leave them where students could plagiarize from them if I'd get some money for it every time they got caught.
      • by icebike (68054)

        I didn't say the teacher couldn't obtain a copy. That's your own straw man.

        From Turnitin website:

        "Our system doesnâ(TM)t deliver guilty verdicts for students. Instead, it generates Originality Reports that provide extensive documentation of any text matches from our databases. Trained faculty then make the determination if plagiarism has occurred."

        http://www.turnitin.com/static/pdf/datasheet_cycle.pdf [turnitin.com]

        So Turnitin could say the paper matched verbatim another given paper or perhaps 75% of another paper,

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DrLang21 (900992)

          So Turnitin could say the paper matched verbatim another given paper or perhaps 75% of another paper, then the instructor could make a decision on that alone and confront the student.

          The problem here is that the teacher has no proof, only circumstantial evidence, since Turnitin cannot legally provide a copy of the supposed original. Because of this, a teacher making an accusation would be opening themselves up, and the educational institution they work for, for big time litigation. In the time I spent working for a University, they did not take plagiarism or accusations of it lightly. Accusations of plagiarism were kept confidential while they were thoroughly investigated by the Univ

          • by david_thornley (598059) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @03:21PM (#27665331)

            If the student has plagiarized, the student has found the paper somewhere. There's a good chance it's off the Web, so the teacher can Google for some of the phrases. It may be from earlier classes, in which case the teacher may have back papers to search.

            The teacher can use the information from TurnItIn to start an investigation. As you point out, accusing without proof is a real bad idea.

    • by fermion (181285)
      In the case of Turnitin, the copyright on the authors work has been potentially violated. The student is turning the work of another claiming that it is his or her own. Turnitin, therefore, is simply protecting the copyright. If the student did gain permission, and can prove this fact, then this is a false positive. I would think that the importance given to copyright that authors would welcome this service, which is almost nothing like google, although one day it could be.
  • Economic impact (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Absolut187 (816431) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:10PM (#27664017) Homepage

    The Supreme Court has stated that the single most important of the "fair use factors" is the economic impact on the copyrighted work - i.e. will the allegedly infringing work compete for marketshare?

    In the case of turnitin.com the answer is "definitely not". The copy is not displayed publicly (in my understanding), it is just uploaded for comparison to other works. I can't think of any argument that this has any financial impact on the author.

    In Google's case, the answer is "probably not very much.. we think." Google's copying efforts are part of a plan to make the copyrighted content publicly available - even if only in snippets - in search results. One could make the argument that libraries will need to buy fewer copies of books due to Google's efforts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by postbigbang (761081)

      Google directly has an effect on my royalty checks. For that, they've injured me, and the effort I went thru to produce ten books. They have yet to pay me for that abuse.

      In the case of fair use for term papers and the like; their commercial value is less clear, but in one swoop, the court killed any commercial return for these works. That's a bit onerous.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Bullshit.

        There is no evidence that shows making available online means no one buys your books.

        If just being available meant no one would pay, iTunes would have sold over 2 billion songs.

        Many case where someone does just start referencing or using someone elses material, the original work sales increase.

        The only effect on your royalty check would be an increase.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dan Ost (415913)

        Google directly has an effect on my royalty checks.

        How did you determine that?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ajs (35943)

        Google directly has an effect on my royalty checks.

        Oh, it was a direct effect? That means, of course, that Google negotiated your royalty checks down with your publisher?

        Oh, you meant that there was an INdirect impact via a reduction in sales due, in part, you suspect, to Google making portions of your work available online.

        Of course, you haven't done anything even approaching a rigorous study to confirm any of this. You don't even have a control, do you? You just have "I'm not making as much money as I think I should be."

        That said, welcome to the nature of

    • by geekoid (135745)

      If history of digital material is any example, then it's "No negative effect".

    • Re:Economic impact (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DrLang21 (900992) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:29PM (#27664391)
      It could also be argued that if a student set up a service where they sold copies of their class work for other students to turn in as their own, and for educators to buy copies to identify those students attempting to copy, then Turnitin would be directly infringing on their copyright. The plagiarism in this case would not be illegal, since purchasers have been given permission by the author to claim credit for the work. Would Turnitin still be considered fair use?
      • by Jason1729 (561790)
        Or further along those lines, what if a competing service to turnitin were to offer royalties to the students for including their work in the database. Then the author of the work should have the chance to include their work in that database, but they're denied that opportunity by turnitin using their work for free.
    • by oliphaunt (124016)

      this analysis misses the point. If Turnitin wasn't allowed to just copy the works without permission, they would have to pay students for a license. The unlicensed use is in direct economic competition with the potential sale of legitimate licenses. This is exactly the kind of taking that copyright is supposed to prevent.

    • In the case law, the factor of "economic impact" is almost never limited to direct competition. In fact, quite the opposite. Think of the case involving the 2 Live Crew parody of "Pretty Woman." [wikipedia.org] In that decision, the court noted that the rap parody wouldn't really be competing for the market that the original was going for. However, they also noted that it might compete in the market for authorized rap versions of "Pretty Woman."

      That fair use was OK, but the broad economic impact rationale is found all over

  • since it could make pretty much the identical arguments on all points

    No, it couldn't because Google is directly distributing the works it scans, as opposed to turnitin.com who is selling services based on analysis of the works, and not distributing the work itself.

  • I dunno if this qualifies as fair use. It has a severe impact on the potential market for the work being copied :-)

  • This verdict is basically total nonsense.

    These works were never published. Therefore they should not be
    subjected to the same expectation that an author cannot completely
    control his work. These are all stolen unpublished works. They are
    the student's private papers. Defenses based on copyright shouldn't
    even be applicable.

    The fact that those that don't want their private papers stolen might
    be despicable is not relevant.

    • by Aladrin (926209)

      Were they stolen, or did the student consent to this by turning the paper in?

      No matter what argument you make, that determination would have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

      • by DrLang21 (900992)
        This is probably the most fair and interesting point I've seen on here yet. All Universities I know of require students to allow them to claim IP rights to all student generated works, invention or otherwise. If that alone couldn't immediately bury this case 6 ft under, then I wonder what the chances are that those policies would hold up in court.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Again (1351325)

      These works were never published. Therefore they should not be subjected to the same expectation that an author cannot completely control his work. These are all stolen unpublished works. They are the student's private papers. Defenses based on copyright shouldn't even be applicable.

      What are you talking about? If you create something, you own it. If you write a paper then you own the copyright to that work whether or not you choose to publish it. Publishing your work does not make your copyright claim any stronger.

    • by Millennium (2451)

      Defenses based on copyright shouldn't
      even be applicable.

      Uh... Beavis started it.

      No, really. Read up on the case; it was the plaintiffs (i.e. the students), not the teachers, who first brought up copyright. In fact, the lawsuit hinged on it: the students were trying to keep their work out of anti-plagiarism tools based on copyright defense. I agree that copyright shouldn't have been used in this case, but not for the same reasons you do.

      There is a reasonable expectation when you turn in a paper for school that a teacher will take measures to detect plagiarism. Th

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They are not the student's private papers. They were disclosed to someone else (the professor) for evaluation. You're right that they aren't published and they aren't public either, but "evaluation" certainly includes "evaluating the possibility of plagiarism". If turnitin.com were making the content of papers available to others or publishing themselves, that might be an issue, but they aren't.

      Worst case (if this case had gone in favor of the student), professors would subsequently insist that in order

    • by OzPhIsH (560038)
      Your opinion is basically total nonsense.

      From womeninbusiness.about.com [about.com]:

      As of January 1, 1978, under U.S. copyright law, a work is automatically protected by copyright when it is created. Specifically, a work is created when it is "fixed" in a copy or phonorecord for the first time.

      And if you don't trust that source, how about copyright.gov [copyright.gov]:

      Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
      No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the mom
    • Learn your copyright law. All that's needed for copyright to apply is fixation in a tangible medium of expression. Publication determines length of copyright in some cases, but what constitutes "publication" these days is pretty blurry in any case...
    • by PhxBlue (562201)

      These are all stolen unpublished works. They are the student's private papers.

      The students always have the option not to turn in their essays at all. What's that ... they'd fail? Yes, they would.

      I get that people want to protect their creative works, but if you're in a college class, you are getting something in return: a passing grade, provided you didn't plagiarize someone else's material. Now, if there are records of colleges publishing student essays and profiting from it directly and without studen

  • by pleappleappleap (1182301) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:16PM (#27664113) Homepage

    I understand and largely agree with the ruling, but isn't there another issue? Do I have any right to have my (quite possibly deeply personal) ideas kept private from this company (TurnItIn)? Do I have an expectation of any level of confidence between my teacher and myself?

    Might this lead to another argument in this kind of case?

  • I'm curious having never used it. Do they do matching on a full document level? Do they do it by paragraph, by sentence, by phrase? Is there some kind of heuristic to prevent rewording, synonym replacement? How do they handle false positives like two block quotes from the same source?
  • by krsmav (1410223) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:25PM (#27664289)
    IAAL. IMHO, the TurnItIn case won't have much effect on other fair use cases. This was a made up, test case, in which a couple of high school kids and their parents claimed that any attempt to detect their plagiarism by comparing their papers with others violated their copyrights in their own [plagiarized] work. Their chutzpah got the result it deserved. Any lawyer smart enough to be a judge can write a convincing, or at least consistent, opinion on either side of a case. Don't expect the TurnItIn case to make much difference where the copyright owner has a plausible claim.
  • by doas777 (1138627) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:26PM (#27664325)

    So the big guys with the big lawyers get fair use, but for the little guy, it's DMCA takedown notices all the way down

  • Revenue model (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DomNF15 (1529309)
    Please correct me if I'm wrong but it seems that Turntin's source of revenue is based on a database of work created by other people (students). It would only seem fair that, regardless of whether or not the work was published, the authors should receive some kind of compensation for Turntin's use of their paper(s), since without these papers, they would not have a service to offer.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Even if Turnitin.com is not violating copyright, then surely the schools and teachers are violating copyright by sending a complete copy of your work to Turnitin. The school is making and distributing a digital copy of the work which should not fall under fair use.

    Now, writing an essay for your class constitutes work for hire, the school doesn't have the right to distribute this work or make copies of it as they necessarily must do in order to use the turnitin service.

  • the first time that their database is used in an improper manner, turnitin will look like incompetent fools. The judge who ruled this decision will look like an even bigger fool.

    What if I turn in my paper with a digital signature or license agreement? turnitin will eventually mis-use the work.

  • Mixed feelings (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheCarp (96830) * <sjcNO@SPAMcarpanet.net> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:44PM (#27664697) Homepage

    Yes, as a fair use proponent I agree with the decision. Though, even if it didn't apply as an "unpublished work", I still don't see this as a problematic use, in that I don't see any reasonable expectation of confidentiality. If there was one, certainly not one that would extend to expecting the professor would not store, or otherwise use his paper in accordance with the needs of the professor and institution to fairly dole out credit (including keeping, or causing others to keep, a copy for purposes of checking for plagerism now and in the future).

    This "use" is quite "fair". Now, if the professor was posting the papers online himself for others to read.... or selling compendiums of papers etc.... thats another story. However, this sort of use seems quite reasonable, and unreasonable to put restrictions around beyond basic protection of the privacy of the student involved (oooh... now how does this relate to FERPA? ... which often does, in some part, apply to students (I used to work in University IT) )

    What I find worriesome is the technology itself. Essays are often about similar topics. Papers are seldom about really original topics or even originals slants. Overall, amongst the growing number of similar papers out there, I do wonder how long it will be before their false positive rate starts to climb? Will we begin to see students accused of plagerism for nothing more than not thinking of much new to say, and having a writting style similar to some other unoriginal sod with the same paper topic?

    Sure, the chances that someone else will write the same paper you did is pretty small, even with lots and lots of papers. However, what about the chances that any two people in a wide database of student papers will write almost the same paper, given the same topic, and same sources. That question worries me far more as I fear that as time goes on, the chances of this happening approaches 1.

    -Steve

  • by WiiVault (1039946) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:45PM (#27664739)
    This is an example of a tool that is far too powerful for the people intended to use it and therefore distructive. I remember getting chewed out by a teacher because I had a 2% match on a 10 page paper. Things like "that is" "before that" ect. were interpreted as plagiarism because somebody on the face of the earth had written them before. Oh course the dumbass teacher saw the 2% and failed me on the paper, which I had to fight all the way to the top of the school, where thankfully somebody bothered to check it out and realize I was being burned at the stake. For my remaining years I was considered somebody to watch thanks to this service and the brain dead people who use it.
    • by goodmanj (234846)

      My sympathies, but I don't really think you can blame Turnitin for that fiasco.

      You might as well demand that chalkboard erasers be banned from classrooms because an irate professor once threw one at you.

      Disclaimer: I am a college professor.

  • wait a sec. Obviously the student's works have economic value- to TurnItIn! If they weren't scraping work from ten thousand high schools, they wouldn't have a database of work to do their comparisons against. The court's fair-use analysis is nonsense. In an honest evaluation, all four factors weigh against the company:

    • 1. purpose and character of the use: commercial- for the students.
    • 2. nature of the work: individual creative writing- for the students.
    • 3. portion of the work taken: all of it- for the stud
  • by sxmjmae (809464) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @04:54PM (#27666709)
    Plagiarism, as defined in the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, is the "use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work."

    The "close imitation of the language and thoughts". If you have possibly hundreds or thousands of sample works on a particular topic it is very likely that duplication will start occur. It may start out at 1% match but as the database grows the matching to existing parts of other items will grow till the point where it will be virtually impossible to actually write something that is considered actually original by a logical computer.

    How many ways can you interpret Shakespeare? I know my English had no frig'n clue about Shakespeare but if your interpretation did not closely imitate his language and thoughts you where 100% wrong! Every passing paper was remarkably similar in its verbiage.

The only difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman is that the car salesman knows he's lying.

Working...