Friday 22 May 2009

Turnitin – could copyright law protect plagiarism?

Turnitin is a plagiarism-detection service licensed to more than 6,500 schools and colleges in 106 countries. It checks students' work against more than 75 million student papers that have been previously submitted to Turnitin, and compares them to over 11 billion pages of web content including more than 10,000 subscription-based journals and periodicals.

Schools and universities can require students to submit their work for analysis or get a zero grade. If the institution chooses, the students' work will be added to Turnitin's archive. Some American students sued Turnitin for copyright infringement on the grounds that the copies of their work were added to the archive without their permission. Ten out of ten for enterprise and litigiousness! However...

The US Court of Appeals (Fourth Circuit) last month held that Turnitin’s copies are fair use (judgment here). Although the works were creative, unpublished and copied in their entirety for a commercial purpose, Turnitin’s use is transformative - preventing plagiarism is an entirely different purpose from that of the students (you can say that again) - and would not impinge on the potential market for the work.

How does copying an entire work for commercial purposes before publication measure up against the UK’s fair dealing provisions…? Turnitin’s website says: ‘Multiple law firms have concluded that Turnitin operates in full accor­dance with the intellectual property and privacy laws of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.’

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