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Students Settle With TurnItIn In Copyright Case 208

Posted by Soulskill
from the nobody-wants-to-read-your-awful-papers dept.
An anonymous reader writes "With the deadline for a Supreme Court appeal rapidly approaching, the students who sued TurnItIn.com for issues surrounding copyright infringement reached a settlement with the site's company on Friday. Now the search goes out for any student who has a paper which is being held by TurnItIn that they did not upload themselves. If your teacher uploaded a paper and ran a TurnItIn report without your permission, I bet the students' attorney would like to hear from you."
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Students Settle With TurnItIn In Copyright Case

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  • by yincrash (854885) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:06AM (#28917575)
    can i search my name on turnitin.com?
  • Always did wonder (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:09AM (#28917603)

    I always did wonder how these plagiarism detection things were able to legally continue to operate. They obviously have to hold copies of works that were not uploaded by the original authors to compare this stuff to. Are they not in mass violation of copyright? Are not the teachers who uploaded this stuff at least as guilty as file sharers, I mean after all, my term papers from college are way more useful than a new tune from Bittany.

    • Re:Always did wonder (Score:5, Informative)

      by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot@@@castlesteelstone...us> on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:30AM (#28917771) Homepage Journal

      They obviously have to hold copies of works that were not uploaded by the original authors to compare this stuff to. Are they not in mass violation of copyright?

      No. Go read the standard of fair use again.

      "Academic purposes" are one of the black-letter exemptions. If this were a college doing the bundle and offering it for-free to all participants, instead of a private company making a buck, this wouldn't even be a problem.

    • Are not the teachers who uploaded this stuff at least as guilty as file sharers

      Most universities claim copyright on any work students submit as coursework. Presumably the ones being sued failed to do this, but the staff working for them were under the impression that they did.

      • Most universities claim copyright on any work students submit as coursework.

        Oh really? Where's your source for this one?

        I paid for my classes and I own the work I did.

        University funded graduate research is a different story, but that's pretty obviously not what we are talking about.
  • Why don't they just recruit Gary McKinnon? He may not be the greatest ever to have compromised a US military computer, but he could sure warn them of the dangers in leaving default passwords set.

  • Anyone else find it exceedingly ironic that the slashdot summary was lifted word-for-word from Anon-a-blog?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      As author of both the anon-a-blog and the submission, I am cool with that!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:23AM (#28917705)
    One of my favorite points in the Appeal was when Mr. Vanderhye made a point about the security of TurnItIn.

    I can't quote it exactly... but when he made the point, nearly EVERY head nodded, including the three appellate judges. It was one of those made-for-TV moments. This was right around the time of the US Presidential election:

    something like "You can bet if Barack Obama's or Sarah Palin's high school papers were stored on the *most secure server* on the internet, they would have been hacked. There's no doubt that a site with the lax security of TurnItIn would be hacked."

    Man, ya shoulda been there!

  • by Grant The Great (562818) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:23AM (#28917717)

    Seriously, each professor that I had that used this service specifically mentioned it the first day and it was written in the syllabus. I brought up an objection with each professor and they had no issue with me opting out and them presumably just googling various sentences in my papers. It wasn't an issue, the professors agreed with me when I voiced my objections about the privacy, copyright ownership, data retention, presumption of innocence, etc. The only reason that they used it was because the department head dictated it.

    Exercise your rights. It's your paper. Remember, professors are people just like you. While they may believe you to be paranoid, they won't hold it against you if you voice your concerns with logic, passion, and conviction.

    • by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:40AM (#28917841) Homepage

      they had no issue with me opting out

      You do not have to, and should not have to, opt out of your creative works being infringed.

      The only reason that they used it was because the department head dictated it.

      If the department dictated that the professor should take your laptop, sell it on eBay, and give the money to some third party corporation, would you see the professor as having done no wrong? This corporation is building its cashflow on your creative work, without license. If they want to come to you and negotiate a deal to use your creative work in their business model, fine. Until then, it is yours.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        You do not have to, and should not have to, opt out of your creative works being infringed.

        You are absolutely right. This should be an opt in service with waiver or contract, unfortunately that's not the case. Complaining about it isn't going to fix it unless you can provide pressure to the people higher up in the food chain or by legal means. I was, however, a poor college student so I could only fight my own battles.

        If the department dictated that the professor should take your laptop, sell it on eBay

        • by Bob9113 (14996)

          I didn't mean my post to be an attack on you. More on the system.

          A big part of "the system" is that the system pushes us to "be reasonable." To find reasonable solutions to problems, as you did.

          The problem with that is while we are being reasonable, the corporations are being sociopathic. That is a recipe for a steady slide.

          I'm just trying to encourage you and others to be unreasonable. It is the reasonable thing to do when presented with an unreasonable system.

          Of course, the system punishes those who do no

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Miseph (979059)

            "That implies that there are times you should choose not to fight or choose a less confrontational approach."

            Only if you're being reasonable.

      • I think you're severely overstating the problem.

        My uni made it clear that they reserved the right to use turnitin for certain assignments, as a condition of enrolment, and I would guess other universities would do the same. So, it's not technically opt out as it is making an exception for your opting in.

        And the fact that it's head department policy is neither here nor there. The university wants it, you agreed to it, make a deal if you want an exception.

      • If the department dictated that the professor should take your laptop, sell it on eBay, and give the money to some third party corporation, would you see the professor as having done no wrong?

        Get back to us when that happens. Meantime, learn what a strawman is.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      That's because there isn't really any point to turnitin other than sloth. I remember talking to some of the faculty when I was in college about that, and the reality is that while some people are subtle about it, that takes a lot of work to plagiarize in a way that's difficult to detect. Most of the time it's more or less self evident and googling a couple of those sentences will reveal the cheating.
    • by Albanach (527650)

      they had no issue with me opting out

      Perhaps you should send a couple of essays to the attorney to find out if you really did manage to opt out. Perhaps one or more of your professors just nodded and uploaded the text anyway?

    • by pbhj (607776)

      Exercise your rights. It's your paper.

      Is it. You make it at their behest and give it to them. Unless you apply licensing terms surely they're entitled to do as they please with it within the usual confines of the law.

      Of course you don't have to give it them if you feel it's worth more to you in some other way.

  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:27AM (#28917739) Homepage Journal

    In a way it's too bad that this didn't go to trial. Back when I was working in the Academic sector there was occasionally firestorms between students and faculty about this subject.

    The major university I worked for (which will remain unnamed obviously) had it in the student contract (or code or bylaws or whatever) that the copyright of anything turned in by a student was owned by the university. I am guessing many universities do the same thing.

    So it would have been interesting to see if that sort of fine print clause in a student agreement with a state institution would of held up. If it does I would think that the student didn't really have a case.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How are they going to claim that a work by the student is copyrighted by the university? If they were paying me a salary then I could see it, but they're not. I'm paying for the education, so it's mine.

      • by tepples (727027)

        How are they going to claim that a work by the student is copyrighted by the university? If they were paying me a salary then I could see it, but they're not.

        Your college credit is the salary. The consideration for this salary is 1. tuition and fees, plus 2. assignment of copyright in covered works.

        • by hedwards (940851)
          Colleges may believe that, but I don't think that would stand up in court. You're paying them tuition and fees in order to get credits and hopefully a degree. The papers belong to the student as the student is the only one with the legal right to redistribute the papers. Now, there may be some whining about it being scholastic dishonesty to do so, but it's the right of the owner of the copyrighted information to redistribute it.

          I don't think that the colleges are buying the work as part of a trade for th
          • You're paying them tuition and fees in order to get credits and hopefully a degree.

            Simply repeating that this (without the copyright assignment) is sufficient consideration is like repeating that "stealing"[1] cable television is OK because the shows on basic cable have advertisements.

            The papers belong to the student as the student is the only one with the legal right to redistribute the papers.

            And also the only one with the legal right to assign this copyright to another party.

            [1] In before "it's not stealing." Theft of services [wikipedia.org] is the legal term.

          • by blueskies (525815)

            Kinda like how no college has EVER felt entitled to any of the patents its grad students were granted based on research while there? Colleges never get any share of inventions by their students....

        • Your college credit is the salary.

          If course credit and a piece of paper is their payment to me then I got ripped off. I hate the higher education system, but have learned to deal with its shortcomings and maneuver through the system to get my piece of paper so that I could finally have my work experience count towards a PE license. I was very annoyed while streaming my graduation ceremony* that the president of the university bestowed my degree upon me with recommendation from the faculty. BS I earned that degree, fulfilled all requireme

    • by Bureaucromancer (1303477) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:51AM (#28917923)
      At my school there's nothing about copyright being handed over (in fact, as to TurnItIn, faculty are enoucraged to use it, but have to make it optional; usually means doing an annoted bibliography if you refuse) but there is a clause that they will consider any submission of previously marked work as plagarism. E.G. if a single paper is valid as course work in more than one course, and you hand it in twice they will consider it plagarized (I think there may be something to the effect that written permission can void this actually, never seen it given though). Not exactly the same thing, and I can see the university having an interest in this not happening, but I find the very idea one could "plagarize" oneself laughable, and the policy is honestly just as insulting as TurnItIn requirements. If a prof really needs new work just put it in the bloody course requirements.
    • by Gribflex (177733)

      Agreed -- my University did the exact same thing.
      As for having to agree to the terms of handing over your copyright -- it was in the terms that you agreed to when you applied and registered.

      You never signed a 'I waive my copyright' agreement, but you did sign an 'I agree to the terms, conditions and code of conduct as laid out in the calendar' agreement -- those terms included the copyright transfer deal.

      The copyright transfer was not 100% though, you were still guaranteed attribution, but the University wa

      • by hedwards (940851)
        I don't know where you live, but that sort of thing is probably not enforceable here. That would be a pretty blatant violation of state law governing how contracts may be interpreted. In order to win the case the college would have to demonstrate that they had made it sufficiently clear what they were asking for and that there was a meeting of the minds over it.

        Courts around here tend to frown on easter egg hunts in contracts, particularly those that include references to other documents and where one co
        • by Gribflex (177733)

          I think it would fall in the same category as a EULA. Very, very few people will actually read a EULA before clicking I Agree, but it's still considered enforceable in court.

          In our case, it wasn't actually that hidden either. It was in the general guidelines section where you could find other things on sexual harassment, drug use, plagiarism, etc. And, if I recall correctly, it was phrased in pretty plain English (something like: 'All work submitted for course credit becomes property of the University.')

          Bec

    • The university probably got in the contract that the student give a perpetual non revokable right to the university to use/give/copy the work without a fee. But unelss they qualify for as "work for hire" they retain the original copyright. Mind you it is not the same for work given to doctorant : their result is then really a work for hire and owned by the university.
  • Totally Unfair! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:34AM (#28917795) Homepage

    Copyright law is supposed to protect corporations from potential customers. It is not meant to be used to protect authors from corporations. This is a perfectly honest corporation advancing its agenda by innocently infringing the copyright of authors. Corporations are supposed to get unequal protection under the law. How this court could see fit to apply the law equally in this case is beyond me.
     
    /sarcasm

  • by spartin92 (1342937) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @11:39AM (#28917827)
    Last year my history teacher gave me a had time because I felt it was immoral and illegal for her to post my report without my permission. After days of waiting and a parent teacher conference (high school still :/) she just dropped the issue but didn't inform the rest of her classes that they didn't have to submit it. I licensed it under a Creative Commons Non-commercial use license. She probably just submitted it. :/
    • by Qubit (100461)

      Email the lawyer -- they could probably get a court order to do discovery on Turn-it-in's database. If the paper isn't in the database, then no biggie. If the paper is in the database as you surmise, Turn-it-in probably isn't going to get smacked as hard as your teacher, but it's one more chance for a plaintiff to get a judgment against the company.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Albanach (527650)

      I licensed it under a Creative Commons Non-commercial use license.

      The revenge of the geeks. Students now have to shrink wrap their essays with an EULA saying that by opening you have agreed to the terms of the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Use license.

      I do hope you included the attribution required clause!

  • by fluffy99 (870997) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @12:31PM (#28918201)

    It seems like they ought to be suing the teacher for distributing and/or reproducing the paper, not the company. As I understand it, the company merely received the copies and stored them. Or does the company allow other teachers to download potentially similar papers if there is a match flagged? Its the same argument about downloading music not being the issue, but rather allowing others to download it from you.

    • by pembo13 (770295)

      > It seems like they ought to be suing the teacher for distributing and/or reproducing the paper, not the company.

      The company is the one profiting.

      • by Trepidity (597)

        Yes, but as we've been trying to hammer into the RIAA's defenders for a few years now, suing someone for copyright infringement requires proving that they distributed copies.

  • Use judo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Qubit (100461) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @12:33PM (#28918225) Homepage Journal

    Instead of fighting a big company yourself, just direct the weight of a big company to do itself in.

    1. Write a paper. A really, really good paper. A research paper.
    2. Get it accepted by a big journal. A really, really big journal like Nature.
    3. Now somehow get this sucker added to Turn-it-in's database. Maybe you wrote the paper as a thesis and the prof needs to check it. Whatever.
    4. Let the journal know that Turn-it-in has your paper. The paper to which they hold exclusive rights.
    5. Pop some popcorn and sit back and let Nature do a little "Hulk Smash!".
    6. The End.

    (of course there would be several key problems in carrying out such a plan, but it would be delightfully amusing if you could pull it off)

    • by pbhj (607776)

      3. Now somehow get this sucker added to Turn-it-in's database. Maybe you wrote the paper as a thesis and the prof needs to check it. Whatever.

      If you upload it you're the one copying it. You granted Nature an exclusive license and so are in breach. It is you who Nature will "Hulk Smash!". If you're really on a roll Turn-it-in will remove the data and then sue you as well for breaching their terms when you uploaded data that you knew you didn't have rights to copy thus causing them loss of trade and reputation to the order of, oh I don't know ... one-million-pounds ... [pinky-twist]

  • Now the search goes out for any student who has a paper which is being held by TurnItIn that they did not upload themselves.

    Er, no. It was pure supposition on the part of the blog author that the lawyers might be interested in hearing from more students.

    On a side note, the students lost. Twice. They were also facing accusations of unauthorized access to the TurnItIn site, and opted to settle rather than face the prospect of actually having to pay for poking the hornets' nest (the district court had ruled against the company, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded that decision). Meanwhile, the TurnItIn people had alr

  • It's when you're accused of plagiarism of your own previous writings that this gets absurd. Do you not have the right to reuse and improve upon your own writings?

    I would never let a service like this have any of my original work if I could possibly avoid it. Why isn't there some provision that you can check this paper against others, but you CANNOT add it to your database? It is outright theft otherwise.
    • Do you not have the right to reuse and improve upon your own writings?

      Depends, but one of the requirements of my degree was that coursework could not have been submitted as coursework for any other qualification previously. So, no, plagarising your own work, if it had already been submitted as coursework for another module or another qualification, would have been the grounds for getting no marks.

  • Make the students write the paper in class and show intermediary work. Only 2-4 full classes need to be sacrificed for it.

    1. Student hands in topic writeup
    2. Student hands in research photocopies and an outline
    3. Class 1 (or 1 & 2): Student writes 1st draft in class.
    4. Class 2 (or 3 & 4): Student revises and produces 2nd draft in class.
    5. Student hands in final draft.

    Each piece of intermediate work is mandatory and averaged into the paper's overall grade. If they miss the writing class, they could do it at

    • by selven (1556643)
      Wait, you're advocating wasting a classroom and hours of a teacher's time for something that could, and should, be done at home, just to mitigate cheating?
  • You effectively have an agreement with your school or university under which you study there. If that agreement doesn't explicitly allow the use of plagiarism detection services right now, it will in the future. Your choice will be to either agree to it or walk away.

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