Turnitin infringes student rights

To combat plagiarism, UH has joined many other colleges, universities and high schools in subscribing to iParadigms LLC service Plagiarism is an important issue in academia and should never be treated lightly. While the Turnitin service has made it more difficult for students to submit plagiarized work, it raises questions about, among other things, the University’s and Turnitin’s right to use students’ original work for profit without permission or sharing of said profits.

According to its Web site, Turnitin is used by thousands of institutions in over 80 countries. It is completely Web-based and checks students’ papers against its own database and online content, such as magazines and trade publications. It allows teachers to check their students’ work for plagiarism more quickly than any other system on the market. The service provides a detailed report for each paper submitted, and if there are significant similarities, the allegedly copied material is listed next to the student’s submission. From there, it is up to the teacher to assess the existence or level of plagiarism.

Among the concerns of teachers and students on the subject of Turnitin are copyright infringement, waning teacher responsibility for student performance, and the ultimate effectiveness of the service.

The main idea behind students’ concern over the treatment of their submitted work is its use by a third party for profit. Turnitin charges institutions to use its service, then the institution submits work to the service where it is processed and added to its archives. This is the sticking point. The student to whom the work belongs now becomes a non-consenting contributor to the Turnitin database. Turnitin continues to make a profit, and the bigger its database, the more appealing it is for institutions to use the service. This, potentially, will continue to increase Turnitin’s profits. Since the student has contributed to the functionality of a for-profit business, does that student deserve a share of the company’s profit? The answer, for now, is "no." Because the student cannot share in the profit of Turnitin, should they be allowed to opt out? This answer is also "no," for now.

Today, students cannot copyright their work to include control of how or by whom it’s used. Therefore, once it is submitted to Turnitin, it is no longer theirs. Students should have the ability to control the usage of their original work, and this ensures that they never will.

It is important for teachers who use this service to remember to teach their students how to avoid plagiarism. They cannot merely rely on Turnitin to tell them and their students that their ideas and essays are original.

A problem with Turnitin’s function in detecting plagiarism is that it only detects duplication. It does not, nor can it, detect plagiarism in which the student copies material, but uses synonyms instead of quoting verbatim. This type of plagiarism is as much a problem as any other. Therefore, Turnitin is minimally effective when compared to the problem as a whole.

Although plagiarism is a grave problem, students should have ultimate control over use of their intellectual property, including any submitted work. There must be a method enacted to prevent and catch plagiarism, while protecting the rights of students.

Webb, a political science and creative writing senior, can be reached via [email protected].

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