Anti-plagiarism site Turnitin is being sued by students for violating copyrights on 6 papers submitted to the service. Turnitin is in use by more than 6,000 universities and school systems to compare papers that students write with articles and papers from the Internet. The goal of the service is to catch students who plagiarize, but there was one detail that two students decided to target.
When teachers upload papers to Turnitin they are stored on their server for future comparisons. Eventually this would become an easy way for teachers to see if a student is simply submitting an article written by another past student. While this is a privacy issue, two high-school students also saw that it could violate copyright laws.
The two students first filed for copyrights on 6 papers that they had written, and once they were granted those copyrights they submitted them to Turnitin. One of the papers even gave explicit instructions for Turnitin not to archive the paper, but seeing that this was an automated service those instructions were ignored. Now they are suing for $150,000 per paper which brings the lawsuit to $900,000!
How do other sites get around this? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects sites like YouTube under the safe harbor laws. This pawns the illegal act off on the uploader instead of the person hosting the service. YouTube is therefore doing no wrong as long as it removes the copyrighted content when asked to do so.
So in your opinion are services like Turnitin doing anything illegal? Some say that they are because they are boasting the database of 22 million student papers as a huge selling point of the service. The service reportedly costs a lot of money, and every time an instructor uploads a paper it will just make the service even more valuable in the future.
There is also the issue of privacy if by chance their servers were hacked. Papers written by thousands of students would be in the hands of someone who could easily make a website to sell the papers online…all without the consent of the students who wrote the papers.
So what’s your take on this? Is it wrong for Turnitin to make money off of archiving these student’s papers or are they offering a valuable service who’s benefits outweigh the copyrights?