Turnitin.com, the subscription service designed to help teachers root out plagiarism, has been sued by two high school students who believe the service’s archives of submitted work constitutes copyright infringement.
After the McLean school adopted the system, a group of offended students banded together and hired a lawyer to send Turnitin a letter in September 2006. The letter generated a strong response: Turnitin filed for a “declaratory judgment” from a federal judge in California, looking for a ruling that its service was legal. In that case, filed in early December, the company claimed once again that it was protected by the fair use exemption, and that it was actually protectng [sic] student copyrights. “Rather than infringing intellectual property rights, iParadigms is trying to protect copyright interests by students and other authors by preventing plagiarism of the very student papers that Turnitin receives,” the company wrote.
At the beginning of this school year, my department head charged me with checking into adopting Turnitin.com for our school’s use, but we never felt the principal was behind it, so we dropped it. I have to say that their salesperson was really vigorous about signing us on once we contacted her. She didn’t give up for several months!
My students write papers in class on computers, but nothing really prevents them from saving the documents to flash drives or e-mailing them to themselves to work on at home. I think the only way to prevent plagiarism and be 100% sure you have the students’ own work is to require all essays to be handwritten in class. In this day and age, that seems unreasonable and impractical.