Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TurnItIn Provides a Valuable Service, But Jeopardizes Students' Rights

Realistically, if you're a professor who needs to ensure students aren't cheating on their papers, TurnItIn.com is a true time-saver with few alternatives. TurnItIn is a tremendous boon for professors who simply do not have time to painstakingly check their students' written work for plagiarism against the millions of other scholastic documents on the internet. In an insightful article published last month, one professor praises TurnItIn for its incredible efficiency and criticizes it for its monopolistic hold on students' original works.

The issue hinges on what TurnItIn does with all of those student papers it receives. It keeps them, archives them, and continues to use them for plagiarism checking. Whereas this is more of an issue in principle rather than reality, the fact remains that students are required to give over their intellectual products to a company that will use them to make a profit. Some may find that to be a bit unsettling, although there is no apparent harm that comes from it. After a 2007 lawsuit, a district court determined that TurnItIn is not breaking any copyright laws in their practices. Despite the fact that it is not technically unlawful, TurnItIn does influence the rights of students to be in control of their intellectual property.

As term papers, research manuscripts, and other long written assignments pile up, it is hard to argue against the benefits of using a site like TurnItIn to protect academic integrity and ensure the quality of students' educations. But there is a hidden cost of student ownership that, although practically innocuous (for now), may trouble the ethical constitutions of some.

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