TurnItIn still used despite protests
Issue date: 5/8/09 Section: News
Turnitin.com, a Web site run by iParadigms, LLC, is a contract-based service used by colleges and high schools to screen student work for plagiarism. The Web site cross-references a submitted paper against archived journal articles, newspapers, books, Web pages and previous student works. If matches are found between the submitted essay and archived documents, the Web site alerts the instructor and the student about possible plagiarism.
While iParadigms claims that the service has helped reduce plagiarism and enhance student creativity, some students feel that the use of the Web site violates intellectual property laws and is based on a presumption of guilt.
According to a published decision from the United States Court of Appeals, four high school students filed a lawsuit against iParadigms, claiming that the company was illegally making a profit on their work by selling it as part of the Web site's archives. However, both the preliminary court and the appeals court ruled in favor of iParadigms, stating that the use of student work by iParadigms constitutes fair use and is valid under copyright law.
In its final decision, the appeals court stated that Turnitin.com does not violate intellectual property laws and, "If anything, iParadigms' use of students' work fostered the development of original and creative works by detecting any efforts at plagiarism by other students."
However, some Ivy League schools, such as Princeton, Harvard and Yale, have banned the use of the anti-plagiarism service. According to The Daily Princetonian, Turnitin.com is not a practice of student oversight with which Princeton University is comfortable.
According to John DiNardo, vice provost for academic affairs at Drexel, the decisions regarding Turnitin.com made by other universities have been made due to unique circumstances.
"At Drexel, any issue regarding Turnitin.com has not come up, and because of that, we haven't really looked into [the controversy surrounding Turnitin.com]. There is no official policy for or against the service," DiNardo said.
Judging by the lack of complaints against the Web site, Drexel students have accepted the service as a simple procedure of submitting their work. The acceptance of the service could also be a result of the use of Turnitin.com by high schools around the country, according to DiNardo. In the end, the use of Turnitin.com is at faculty discretion, but should be used to ensure that the work of Drexel students is creative and original.
"There have been events of plagiarism at Drexel, and they are dealt with by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. University professors use Turnitin.com not in a presumption of guilt, but rather due to a knowledge that information is easily available on the Internet," DiNardo said. "In any assignment, the final product should be the student's original thought and any guides should be referenced. Turnitin.com helps to ensure that process and promote creativity."
DiNardo's comments reflect those of John Barrie, CEO of iParadigms.
"The dismissal of [the court case against Turnitin.com] affirms the role of Turnitin as an important instructional support tool that helps students learn to work properly with the intellectual property of others," Barrie said.