Thursday, April 05, 2007

Antiplagiarism Service Sued For Copyright Infringement

Last week, this story was published about a lawsuit against a company that offers an anti-plagiarism service to schools across the country. According to the Washington Post, two high school students from Mclean, Virginia are suing iParadigms, LLC--the California company which offers the Turnitin anti-plagiarism database. Turnitin is a service, “seeks to root out cheaters by comparing student term papers and essays against a database of more than 22 million student papers as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals. In the process, the student papers are added to the database.” And that – the fact that student papers are added to the database – is the heart of the lawsuit.

I have a particular interest in this case because SWBTS (where I am currently a student) uses Turnitin to screen papers and major assignments for most of its classes. According to the story, "Turnitin is used by 6,000 institutions in 90 countries, including Harvard and Georgetown universities, company officials have said."

The suit charges that Turnitin unlawfully adds students' papers to its database without the consent of the authors, and offers no remuneration to the students. These high school students object to the use of their intellectual property (their papers) by a for-profit business without their consent. The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in
Alexandria, seeks $900,000 in damages from Turnitin.

Read more about it here.

What do you think? Is it wrong for this service to use student papers in this way without giving them any compensation or even getting their permission? Is the company doing the same thing (using someone else’s work without giving them credit) that its service seeks to prevent?

On a personal note, I believe it is sad that plagiarism is a problem in seminaries. Conversely, I think it borders on the ridiculous that we must be constantly warned (and threatened) about plagiarism to the point where professors are lecturing us on the evils of “unintentional plagiarism.” Plagiarism is bad, but the remedy must never be worse than the cure.