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Turnitin.com Infringes Upon Student's Rights
by: Zack Anderson
Turnitin.com is undeniably an effective deterrent to plagiarism, but it is the very issue of copyright infringement that has people questioning the legality of the site. What many people don't understand is that works do not need to be registered to be copyrighted. Every literary work that is saved to a tangible medium (this includes paper, computer disk, etc.) is protected by federal copyright laws. Thus, the works submitted to Turnitin.com are copyrighted and the authors hold complete rights to the works. What the Turnitin.com system does, however, is it stores the submitted paper on their servers. This is done without the student's permission. Turnitin.com is operating under the pretense that teachers will force their students to submit to Turnitin.com. Thus, student papers are stored in iParadigm's (the company that runs Turnitin.com) database. This in itself is a blatant violation of the 1976 Federal Copyright Act. Turnitin.com is duplicating copyrighted material without the consent of the student. The student is forced to submit to the site, so submissions are not considered voluntary. In addition, the site does not ask for permission to store the paper, instead, it is done automatically.
iParadigm and their team of lawyers admit in their legal page that the archiving of papers is treading on shaky legal ground. They affirm, however, that their services constitute "fair use" by grounds that their service does not limit the marketability of the paper. The claim that their service doesn't limit the marketability of a paper is false. If one were to sell a term-paper that was already in the Turnitin.com database, the paper would be of little use to a potential student buyer because any similarities from the student's paper would be red flagged. The very addition of a paper to the Turnitin.com database severely limits the feasible marketability of the paper. That is, the archiving of one's paper eliminates other students with the same assignment as potential buyers of the paper.
Another strikingly illegal aspect of the Turnitin.com service is the fact that many teachers submit student works without the student's permission. Turnitin.com is operating under the pretense that this is occurring. When a student gives a teacher a paper for grading the assumption is that evaluative rights are given to the teacher. In no way is the teacher entitled to submit the paper to be copied to the iParadigm servers. iParadigm is breaking copyright laws by duplicating a paper without the copyright holder's consent. In effect, the paper (but not the copyright) becomes property of Turnitin.com. Turnitin.com is clearly making a profit off the papers that students submit. Without the database of some 60,000 student-submitted papers, the Turnitin.com service would not be as effective. Every paper submitted makes the service more effective and the company therefore yields greater profits. Schools that use the service have to pay large amounts of money in the thousands to ten thousands of dollars range. It is clear that the company is profiting off of students' copyrighted hard-work. Interestingly enough, the very place that the Turnitin.com service originally started now has grave doubts over the legality of the Turnitin.com service. Turnitin.com founder John Barrie was a graduate student at UC Berkeley when he started developing the software that the site runs on. Currently, UC Berkeley does not subscribe to Turnitin.com because they feel the site may be infringing upon student's copyrights.
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