Saturday, September 23, 2006

Students Object To Theft Of Their Intellectual Property

Student essays, at least the few I've read, are not often what I'd call "intellectual", but under the law they very well might be considered "intellectual property". So I like the fact that some students in Virginia are suing an anti-plagiarism company, Turnitin, for adding their essays to Turnitin's database.

Teachers or schools subscribe to Turnitin's service. They submit student papers to the company, which compares the papers to those in its database (or, I'm sure, to those found with search engines) to spot plagiarized passages.

The students claim not to support plagiarism, but don't want their personal work added to the database. At this point in time, absent other information, I'm inclined to support them.

Thanks to Joanne (see blogroll at left) for the story.


Rhymes With Right said...

I side with the school and teachers, but I'm willing to offer the kids a compromise solution.

Turnitin will not be required of any student. They may turn in a hard-copy to the teacher with no grade penalty.

However, those students choosing to use this method will be forbidden to use internet resources or word processor programs. All papers will be typed on a typewriter (electric typewriters will be permitted -- I'm not a sadist), following all formatting requirements required of other students, including footnotes if applicable. All sources used by the students must be available from a publicly accessible library collection within 25 miles of the school, and the bibliography must include the name of the library and the call number of the items used.

This way, no student will be forced to submit a paper to turnitin against his or her will -- but the little Luddites will be unable to benefit from the sorts of technology they wish to deny their teachers.

Darren said...

I don't think we need to go that far. I say let their "papers" be submitted to Turnitin for analysis--only Turnitin can't keep the papers in its database. They scan, report, then delete.

Rhymes With Right said...

I'm not sure that such an option exists with turnitin -- and wonder if permitting the copies to reside on turnitin's server is really the equivalent of "publishing" those papers.

I'd argue it is more like my old custom -- keeping a copy of all student research papers (and other "major grade" papers) in my file cabinet for reference purposes.

Chanman said...

What a timely situation. The instructor of the college class I am currently taking on Tuesday nights told us on the first night that he would be running our papers through Turnitin.

When I taught high school for a year, I ran my seniors' student projects through Google when I came across an uncited passage that screamed out to me, "There is no way in hell that this student wrote that!" Sure enough, some paper from a website like would come up with the offending passage.

I always tell my students that if they can find it on the Internet, chances are, so can I; and I have!

Darren said...

When you keep a copy, you're not making money off of it. Turnitin is. Therein lies a difference.

rightwingprof said...

Why shouldn't they make money? They're providing a badly needed service.

The copyright argument is specious. University faculty have no copyright over anything they produce; the university owns the copyright. Students have no copyright over what they produce for classes, period.

Either it goes to turnitin, or he gets an F for the paper. Very simple.

Darren said...

I have no objection to their making money. I just wouldn't want them to make money using *my* work unless I was getting a cut of it--or at least had given them permission to use my work.

Bauer said...

I believe that is using thier site to provide a peer to peer resource for papers and making a profit doing it.


Because submitted papers remain the intellectual property of their authors, instructors, and respective institutions, we are unable to show you the content of this paper at this time.

If you would still like to view this paper, your instructor may be able to request permission to view the paper from the instructor to whom the paper was originally submitted.


As as student I have major issues with knowing that all a person has to do is receive permission from my instructor to receive a full original copy of my work, and makes money off of this service.

I have written several research papers on research that I have done on my own and find it sickening that others have access to my research work without my express consent.

I personally can't wait until a coding flaw on their website allows Google to crawl all of the papers ever submitted and everyone sees the true problem with keeping works that don't belong to you on the Internet.

If would like to change their policy to only scan and compare received works to copyrighted works and keep no copy of my original work I would support them. But the fact that it is my intellectual property gives me the right to choose who can and cannot use it for any reason. If I choose to sell my work to someone else that is my choice, just as it is to restrict anyone from using my work to make a profit.

I intend to test by submitting one of my already submitted works to their service and see what results I receive. I'm curious to find out if I am able to see any of my work, or am able to successfully obtain access to my work through the instructor posed as another instructor or student. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out that provides access to intellectual property without consent of the writer for a price?

Just a couple of cents

rightwingprof said...

But that's the copyright issue. It's not technically "their" work, because it was submitted for a class. It belongs to the university, just as everything I do on any university machine or in my scope as a university employee belongs to the university, and not me.

Darren said...

I disagree. The original work of high school and college students *is* their work. It does not belong go the school.

If *your* work belongs to the school, it's because the school paid you for it as an employee. You signed a contract agreeing to it. These high school students signed no such contract.

Bauer said...

It is technically "their" work unless the University explicitly states that it is not and the students agree. Any work that I do is mine unless I agree to give up my rights, hence my rights. I checked my University and could not find any stance one way or the other on intellectual property rights governing student's submitted works.

I however did find some interesting information from Pennsylvannia State University.


General Rule. Any intellectual property (such as undergraduate theses, inventions, discoveries, creations and new technologies) conceived or first reduced to practice by a student at The Pennsylvania State University (“University”) as a work product (including homework assignments, laboratory experiments, special and independent study projects) of a “for credit” course (including SUBJ 294, 494, 594, 296, 496, and 596) will be owned by the student. The University does not claim ownership of such intellectual property.

So in this case would assignments submitted by PSU staff to violate student's intellectual property rights? I bet it would.

rightwingprof said...

"I have written several research papers on research that I have done on my own and find it sickening that others have access to my research work without my express consent."

If you did indeed write those papers and not plagiarize them, then you should be grateful that is protecting your intellectual property by catching any student who tries to turn your work in as his own.

And no, there is nothing in any contract anyone signed that says the university owns intellectual property. It was yet one more policy the university came up with.

No intellectually honest student would object to turnitin, but would rather object to his work being plagiarized.

Bauer said...

Here's an idea.

Provide a software program and service that offers Universities a way to limit plagarism while keeping student's intellectual property rights intact.

The software would run on University servers and update with information from the service provider, in this case would provide update services including papers such as copyrighted works that they have paid for access to. would not have nor provide in any format whole or part any work that they do not have rights to (in most case, paid for).

To prevent students from writing papers and handing them off to other students the software would allow the University to add papers submitted by students for only that Universities use. The software wouldn't run on the Internet and the school would make no profit from the student's work. or whoever the provider is would not receive a copy of these works. Each University would only have their students' works in the database and the works that has rights to.

Statistically this should produce very close to the same results as now while protecting student's rights.

Darren said...

I don't support plagiarism, but I'd object to this company's keeping my work, making money off of it, and not paying me.

Bauer said...

If you did indeed write those papers and not plagiarize them, then you should be grateful that is protecting your intellectual property by catching any student who tries to turn your work in as his own.

I'm not grateful. And the only way other students will have access to my work is if gives it to them. I'm certainly not providing access to my work on the Internet, but is.

No intellectually honest student would object to turnitin, but would rather object to his work being plagiarized.

Hi, I'm an intellectually honest student and I am objecting to I guess in the future that I will just complete all of my important work, such as research, with a copyright notice. Once checks it and archives it I'll sue them for a few million dollars and call it good.

Tom Keelan said...

1. There are so many misunderstandings in this discussion that I do not know where to begin! I use with all my high school students. You do not understand how the service works! If every student submits to the service, it is like stepping through a metal detector: no one is presuming your guilt, they are trying to protect the innocent from the whackos. allows you to let the students see the results, and my students love to see it. It will show 2% the same as this college student, 3% the same as a student at a prestigious prep school. Those are always quotations used in common, not plagiarism, and hearten my students as to the quality of their selections. I CANNOT see that student’s paper from the other school; I am only allowed to email the instructor for whom the essay was submitted, to ask for a copy. Anyone can see it is merely identical (and most often pertinent and well used) quotations. The fact that I allow my students to see the reports, and do a class on it early in the year, simply means they do not even try to plagiarize. The number of honest kids who are excited (and express it) about a level playing field is legion. The service does not “make a copy” to distribute, it only enters it in the database, which PROTECTS a student’s intellectual property. The primary usage is to check the essay against 5 billion or so internet sources. It means that no one could steal the essay without getting caught. The company makes their money by using a program to match text; it does not “copy” anything the way people are saying. The ONLY people who have anything to fear from this service are plagiarists. If turnitin were ever to “use” a paper from the database, they would be easily caught by their own system, and I expect with their resources would be sued (and lose) until they bled from their metaphoric ears. PLEASE!!! Everyone!!! Get the facts before you argue.

Darren said...

Tom, I'm quite aware of how Turnitin works. The fact that they keep the students' papers in their database, and use those papers to make money (by selling the service that they do, which includes using the student work that's in their database,)strikes me as theft.

If they didn't keep the student work to use later, or didn't keep it without permission, I'd be entirely ok with it.

Your comment that "the only people who have anything to fear from this service are plagiarists" strikes me as the same argument that people use to restrict civil liberties--and I don't buy it.

Please don't assume that because I disagree with you, I don't understand what's going on.

Anonymous said...

I just came across an absolutely eye-opening anti-Turnitin article with tons of proof to support many claims. I had no idea how much Turnitin violates students' rights.

The Well-Known Secret about