Students Sue TurnItIn.com

This story about high school students suing TurnItIn.com made the rounds on Friday: McLean Students Sue Anti-Cheating Service. I’ve not analyzed it closely but their claim–that TurnItIn.com violates copyrights in their papers and essays by copying them to its database–has some legal merit, and wise-ass ironic flavor to boot. The Volokh Conspiracy blogged about it here, succinctly summarizing the arguments on both sides and predicting TurnItIn.com has the better of the arguments. I agree that the transformative nature of TurnItIn.com’s service probably tips the scales in its favor.

An apology for the number of recent posts echoing stories from other sites. A number of things have caught my eye recently but between course prep, exams, and papers I have not been able to get much beyond the surface of anything.

10 thoughts on “Students Sue TurnItIn.com”

  1. Wow. These kids really have some courage. It’s great though, that they are exercising (or at least trying to) their legal rights. It seems as though the majority of us students and young adults do not exercise our rights as often as we should (i.e. not demanding a statement of conditions when leasing an apartment). In a way this instigates me to go find someone to sue just for the heck of it. haha just kidding. Anyways the only thing that bothered me in Volokh’s blog was the statement “since the students’ works are worthless”. Not fair. Not fair at all.

  2. I think that Turnitin.com has some credible arguments. However, the point that sticks in my mind is the fact that Turnitin.com uses the students’ papers, that they get for free (mostly because of schools’ requirements), to make a profit. I don’t see the students receiving any compensation for the money made, realistically, but I would argue that schools should not be able to require students to upload their work. I think that students should make this decision and have the option of adding to the database.

  3. I was never a fan of TurnItIn so I definitely enjoy the irony in this whole situation. The sole purpose of TurnItIn.com is to make sure students’ papers are not plagarised (i.e. violating anyone’s copyrights) and the whole basis of this case is TurnItIn.com’s violation of copyrights in students’ paper. Haha, what goes around, comes around and TurnItIn is finally getting a taste of their own medicine. They’re always trying to catch students and now students finally caught them. Gotta love the irony!

  4. I agree with apatidar…this is quite an ironic situation. All of this intellectual property debate reminds me of an article I read a while ago in the New York Times that spoke of a Russian man that used trademarks to his advantage. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the exact story, but I found a similar article: http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/10/12/business/starbucks.php

    It’s interesting to note the issue of trademarks and intellectual property in a international context. In the story, a man in Russia claims to control the “Starbucks” trademark and is hindering Starbucks from entering the Russian market. The actual Starbucks company is suing him, claiming that he is doing something illegal…I kind of find it humorous that a former car-alarm salesman has so much power, “owning” 300+ brands.

  5. I disagree with the consensus above. What student would actually opt to add their paper to the database? Let’s be honest. If a student plagiarized, they’re obviously not going to submit. Likewise, if a student has been honest in writing his/her paper, why would they waste their time submitting? Also, it’s not like TurnItIn is using the student’s papers to make profit in the sense of claiming the work as their own. They’re profiting by keeping students honest, and as Volokh mentioned in reference to TurnItIn’s fair use arguments, “aid[ing] others’ nonprofit educational mission.” I also agree with TurnItIn’s argument that it does not limit any student’s opportunity to sell his/her own work to a paper, magazine, etc. I think it comes down to recognizing the fact that TurnItIn’s mission is to keep the classroom honest, not profit from it.

  6. I think the two McLean High School students made a bold move by trying to sue the most widely used for-profit anti-plagiarism service in the world. It is also ironic that students would sue the very corporation whose job it is to discover and punish plagiarizing students.

    The issue of this case is that Turnitin.com’s very process is flawed in that it stores all student papers in a database that it uses to point out “copycats” and plagiarists. The anti-plagiarism service does seem to violate copyright laws because it archives about 22 million student papers.

    The damages that this lawsuit claims are also pretty hefty. Nine hundred thousand dollars may not too difficult for the service to pay, but the lawsuit itself will change the way Turnitin.com does its business in the future. Turnitin.com may even go out of business if this lawsuit is successful because its database is necessary for it to track papers from.

    Turnitin.com may be beneficial for teachers and students because it forces students to write their own papers instead of cheating and copying pieces off the Internet. Nevertheless, the two high school students make a valid point, since the service is using their work by storing it in their database to match with other works. It will be interesting to see how this case develops later.

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