Friday, September 22, 2006
Turinit.com and copyright controversy
On September 22, 2006 The Washington Post ran a story by Maria Glod, "Students Rebel Against Database Designed to Thwart Plagiarists". (Subscription may be needed to view the content at the Post.) The service is Turnitin.com, a for profit company that builds a database of high school and college student research papers, and gives teachers and schools the ability to check for plagiarism. But the service arguably helps students, who often have an opportunity to get a "sneak preview" report of potential copying or similarity problems, and also an idea of the appropriateness of their paraphrasing and of their bibliographic or footnoted citations.
There have been suggestions that by building the database of submitted papers, Turnitin is infringing upon copyrights implicitly owned by the students. Here is one such http://chronicle.com/free/v48/i36/36a03701.htm by Andrea Foster in the Journal of Higher Education. There are other services such as Copycatch CFL and Eve2 that check for collusion without retaining the papers. Some universitites, such as the University of Kansas (where I went to graduate school in the late 1960s) have suspended subscription to Turnitin.
This report does get into some philosophical issues. One is the ongoing debate on how well copyright law as a rule protects content creators and preserves their incentive to produce. The other is that an application of copyright law that sounds right in theory can be counterproductive in practice. This shows up in Tim's paper, next blog.
I rememeber well being taught to footnote and create bibliographies in high school English. (I remember that handwritten term paper, around 1959 in junior English, on James Fenimore Cooper's treatment of female characters well.) Indeed, the whole concept of linking from websites (discussed elsewhere on this blog) has its philosophical justification in bibliographic credits (which will be picked up and retained by search engines, making the original authors more visible in public).
The Washington Post followed up with a story Oct. 4, 2006, "Score One for McLean High School Students, by Maria Glod. The high school will require that freshmen and sophomores use the service, but will phase in the requirement for juniors and seniors.
I state an academic intergrity policy for my sites here.