Last April, I posted an entry about Turnitin.com, the private for-profit company whose plagiarism detection service is founded on the illegal expropriation of student work product. At the time, I intended to follow up with further entries, but I never did.
In my own community, however, the Turnitin issue has come to the fore again. Late last year, the company attempted to induce high school students--minors, mostly--to assent to a new and draconian user agreement by clicking through a document that appeared when one logged in to Turnitin. Turnitin attempted to induce students to agree to its terms without even notifying the school district or the parents of children in the school. This step caused the school to temporarily suspend the service.
Now, however, the school has sent home a form for parents to sign authorizing their children to click through and assent to the Turnitin contract. Unfortunately, the school did not tell parents anything about the content of the agreement they were supposed to authorize their children to assent to.
Earlier in my discussions with the school, I prepared an annotated bibliography of materials related to Turnitin. Because I believe these materials should be made public, I am reproducing it here on Framed so that it can serve as a public resource to people seeking to educate themselves about Turnitin's questionable practices. I will add in hyperlinks later.
Annotated Bibliography of Materials Relating to Turnitin.com
This is a brief article written by a Beverly Hills High School
student. It makes the legally significant (though morally dubious)
argument that Turnitin does, in fact, limit the marketability of papers
submitted to it, since such papers could not then be as readily sold to
other students. Since one of the factors to consider when determining
fair use is whether the use impairs and market value of the work in
question, this argument is highly relevant to any fair use analysis.
This blog entry begins with an essay written in response to the
Grand Valley State University position paper by a Turnitin.com
employee. It presents the company’s position on how Turnitin can be a
valuable tool for teachers. What follows, however, are a number of
reader comments taking Bruton to task for, among other things, failing
to address copyright and other legal and moral issues.
This post to a teaching discussion list is an account of a test of
Turnitin’s performance. Carbone concludes that “in these tests, the
service failed at its fundamental promise, which is to find exact or
similar matches to documents in its database.”
“CCCC-IP Caucus Recommendations Regarding Academic Integrity and the Use of Plagiarism Detection Tools.” The Intellectual Property Caucus of the
Conference on College Composition and Communication. 19 Sept. 2006.
This caucus, which represents some 6,000 higher education
instructors, is critical of plagiarism detection services such as
Turnitin on pedagogic grounds. Its conclusions are as follows:
1. The use of PDSs [plagiarism detection services] shifts an
instructor’s role from supporting students and coaching them when they
make mistakes, to policing writing and enacting punishments which may
exceed the individual instructors’ best judgment. This shift
compromises the relationship between teachers and students.
2. PDSs foster an artificial view of originality and the role of
imitation and borrowing in writing. Instructors need to respond to the
changing values and definitions of writing that the Internet generation
brings to the classroom.
3. PDSs enforce a narrow construction of writing as property and do
not help students understand the more complex relationships among
authorship, ownership, sources, and property and the ways in which they
vary according to factors such as context, audience expectations,
genre, and purpose. Distinctions between original and reproduced texts
are always made within specific contexts.
This is one of the earliest articles to raise concerns about
Turnitin. It points out that the service “fails to properly
differentiate between quoted materials and original writing.” Denhart
is concerned that the inclusion of correctly attributed quotations can
cause a student paper to be labeled as plagiarized. In addition,
Turnitin’s competitors are discussed and evaluated.
This is an excellent, if dated, overview of the legal issues under
copyright and FERPA that are raised by Turnitin’s retention of student
papers. Foster discusses UC Berkeley’s decision not to use Turnitin
because of copyright concerns:
Under copyright law, the fair-use exception is easier to justify if
freely distributed copies of a document are not expected to threaten
its commercial value. Dan L. Burk, who is a professor at the University
of Minnesota Law School who specializes in intellectual property, says
of [Turnitin’s] fair-use defense: “That’s baloney.” As many as three
factors undermine the argument, the professor says: The students’
papers are completely copied. They are often creative works, as opposed
to compilations of scientific facts. And they are being submitted to a
commercial enterprise, not an educational institution. “To run a
database, you’ve got to make a copy, and if the student hasn’t
authorized that, then that’s potentially an infringing copy,” says Mr.
Concerning FERPA, Foster quotes
. . . LeRoy S. Hooker, director of the U.S. Department of
Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office, [who] says that there is
no exception to the act that would permit colleges to turn over student
papers to an outside vendor without students’ written permission. “You
can hire a vendor to check for plagiarism,” he says. “But once they do
that, they can’t then keep that personally identifiable document and
use it for any other purpose.”
Foster also mentions two other plagiarism-detection services,
Copycatch and Eve2, which do not illegally retain copies of student
Glod, Maria. “Students Rebel Against Database Designed to Thwart Plagiarists.” Washington Post 22 Sept. 2006. <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/21/AR2006092101800.html>.
This article reports that a student rights committee at McLean High
School has objected to Turnitin. It then proceeds to survey the
Turnitin controversy, citing three professors from Grand Valley State
University in Michigan who claim that “Turnitin makes questionable use
of student intellectual property.” Glod also notes that
the intellectual property caucus of the Conference on College
Composition and Communication, an organization of 6,000 college-level
educators, is debating whether such services “undermined students’
authority over the uses of their own writing” and make them feel
“guilty until proven innocent,” according to a draft position statement.
This is an open letter that was circulated on the campus of Grand
Valley State University in Michigan by three writing instructors
there. It makes three arguments against Turnitin: “Turnitin discourages
good pedagogical practices concerning writing”; “Turnitin can be
ineffective for detecting plagiarism”; and “Turnitin makes questionable
use of student intellectual property.”
The author argues that recent concerns about plagiarism are
overblown and are, in fact, exacerbated by Turnitin. She objects to
seeing student work “commodified” and commercialized. She points out
that the widespread use of Turnitin may erode the fair use doctrine,
presumably because writers will be ever more reluctant to use portions
of other writers’ works for fear of being flagged by Turnitin—even
though such use may be perfectly legal.
Maruca, Lisa. “The Plagiarism Panic: Digital Policing in the New Intellectual Property Regime.” Presented at the ARHB Copyright Research Network, 2004 Conference on new Directions in Copyright. 30 June 2004. <www.copyright.bbk.ac.uk/contents/publications/conferences/2004/lmaruca.pdf>.
The author argues that popular alarm over plagiarism is not
warranted by the facts and, in fact, amounts to a “moral panic.” “The
sense of threat engendered by the purported ‘plagiarism plague’ has
reached a point . . . that teachers and administrators are desperate
for a cure. There is a certain ironic aptness in the fact that, as
anxious for a ‘quick fix’ as they accuse their students of being, they
are turning to a technological solution.” Citing 17 U.S.C. §§ 102, 401
and 405, she also points out that “[a]ny work created in the USA after
1 Mar 1989 is automatically protected by copyright, even if there is no
copyright notice attached to the work.”
Turnitin claims they are legally within fair use exemptions. . . .
Nevertheless, the irony is obvious: a service dedicated to ferreting
out intellectual property violations in the “ethical” realm of
plagiarism, takes what is at least a liberal interpretation, if not
actual and questionable liberties, when it comes to the legal realm of
copyright. Students, who gain nothing financially (at least directly)
from their work, are forced to become more and more vigilant about
their usage of source materials—which is often, in terms of copyright,
well within fair use—are at the same time coerced into relinquishing
their rights to someone who does benefit economically from
their completed texts, plagiarized or not. “Coerced” may seem a strong
word. After students and some faculty at several universities protested
this inequity, Turnitin did begin encouraging instructors to get
students’ permission to submit their work. The extent to which such
“permissions” can [be] said to be freely given within the inherent
power inequities of the classroom is questionable, however.
Maruca also mentions concerns about FERPA violations inherent in the
Turnitin system. She argues that the policing of students through
Turnitin actually “buttress[es] a climate in which all writing is
perceived of as marketable information.”
This is a memo by Cornell University’s legal counsel advising the
college administration in which the author concludes that under
copyright law, “it would be problematic for faculty members to copy
student papers and submit them to Turnitin.com without student
Morgan, M.C. “Turnitin One Year After.” Morgan’s Log. 17 Sept. 2006. <biro.bemidjistate.edu/blog/?p=162>.
In this blog entry by an English professor at Bemidji State
University, the author concludes that Bemidji “is still sponsoring and
supporting turnitin here at BSU, and I’m still embarrassed that they
are. It has become clear over the last year that writing teachers,
comp/rhet specialists, and those who understand writing in academia and
learning, do not use turnitin. That could be a signal to others.”
“Presumption of Guilt?” Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 Mar. 2006. <http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article/1081/presumption-of-guilt>.
This is a brief news item about Mount Saint Vincent University has
banned the use of Turnitin because it treats students as guilty of
plagiarism until proven innocent. Following the article are a number of
“Punditry: Turn This In.” Plagiarism Today: A Site about Plagiarism, Content Theft and Copyright Issues Online. 20 Mar. 2006. <www.plagiarismtoday.com/?p=195>.
This article discusses Turnitin’s practice of caching websites and in light of the Blake Field v. Google
decision. The author concludes that Turnitin should offer students and webmasters an opt-out feature.
Rafferty, Heath. “Anti-Anti-Plagiarism.” Killing Mind. 22 July 2004. <heath.hrsforworks.net/archives/000027.html>.
This blog entry, by an Australian graduate student, cites a legal
opinion commissioned by Turnitin, which states that “if would be wise
to leave students . . . with an ability to withhold their consent [to
having their papers submitted to Turnitin], leaving open the question
of how the subscriber should deal with the consequences of an
individual student refusing to allow his or her paper to be submitted
to the service.” Rafferty goes on to cite other objections to
Turnitin. He is critical of the fact that students do not have a
realistic choice not to turn over their papers to a for-profit American
company. He contends that Turnitin fosters a
guilty-until-proven-innocent ethos. He points out that there is nothing
to stop Turnitin from turning over his paper to any other company or
organization. He contends that Turnitin will discourage teachers from
coming up with new assignments, which will lead to stale pedagogy. He
complains about the inconvenience of using the system. He notes that
reusing one’s own work, which is not plagiarism, would still be flagged
as plagiarism by Turnitin. He points out that there are many ways one
can plagiarize and not be caught by Turnitin, and that the service is
Read, Brock. “The Pros and Cons of Turnitin.” Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 Sept. 2006 <chronicle.com.wiredcampus/index/php?id=1578>.
Article reporting on the controversy over the use of Turnitin at Grand Valley State.
The author, a graduate student at Dalhousie University, writes an
open letter to the school administration protesting the school’s use of
Turnitin. He points out that given that “[o]ver 200 [computer] security
breaches have been reported by organizations more reputable than
Tutnitin. . . . What happens when Turnitin is next?” Smit also points
out that the Turnitin system is easy to game, and that as people become
more attuned to its nuances, they will quickly learn how to defeat
it. He proposes that students be allowed to be excused from the
requirement of submitting their paper through Turnitin if they so
request. He also proposes that teachers submit only those papers about
which there is a serious question of plagiarism. He suggests that
Dalhousie modify its contract with Turnitin so that papers are archived
for only three weeks.
This blog entry takes issue with Turnitin’s claim that it does not
archive student papers, but only “fingerprints” of papers. Through his
use of the Turnitin system, Smits demonstrates that “full-text, exact
copies are available on the [Turnitin] system, and these copies are
used and displayed long after the student is finished a given course.”
This post details Smit’s attempts to get Turnitin to delete his
website from their archive. Turnitin claims that materials can be
removed from its database upon request, but Smits found that there was
no clear process in place to handle such requests, and that Turnitin
was slow and unresponsive to such requests.
Smit, Mike. Turnitin.com—Removing Content from their Database. Mikesmit.com. ND. <http://www.mikesmit.com/page.php?id=24>.
This is a continuation of the March 19 post described above.
This article, from a discussion board devoted to discussions of
technological issues, briefly notes that Halifax University has banned
the use of Turnitin, due to concerns about privacy, copyright and the
ethics of requiring students to contribute to a for-profit database. A
lively discussion by readers of the article follows.
This editorial, written by a law student and published in the Texas
Tech student newspaper, is critical of Turnitin’s claims that it does
not violate copyright law because it only retains a “digital footprint”
of student papers. “They claim this does not violate copyright law
citing 17 USC §102(b). What their legal document will not tell you is
that while 102(b) withholds protection from abstract concepts, it does
not withhold protection from digital copies of original works in their
entirety.” Terry goes on to point out that Turnitin
refuse[s] to take responsibility for any monetary damages resulting
from their program (for example, the cost you may incur when you are
forced to defend yourself against false plagiarism charges). They also
stipulate any dispute regarding copyright infringement must be settled
through arbitration in Alameda County, California. Forget suing them
for violating your intellectual property rights, use of the service
forfeits that option.
“Turnitin.com, a Pedagic Placebo for Plagiarism.” Bedford/St. Martin’s TechNotes. 13 June 2001. <http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/technotes/techtiparchive/ ttip060501.htm>.
This is a good description of Turnitin and the pedagogic and ethical
arguments against it. The author claims that Turnitin “is not about
teaching, it’s about catching. . . . It assumes the worst about
students and the worst about teachers. . . . Much of what Turnin.com
proposes to detect can be avoided by careful assignment planning and
teaching . . . by paying attention early on to students and the work
they do.” Perhaps the most devastating critique of Turnitin is
contained in this passage:
I'm troubled by this co-option of student writing on human subject
grounds. Most universities have protocols for getting permission to
study humans, whether medically, chemically, or socially (i.e.
interviewing, surveying, ethnographies and so on). Under these
protocols, researchers must submit plans for how they will collect and
use student works, and must work out permission to do so. As a teacher
and textbook author -- and now as someone who works for a publisher --
I would never use students work in a book, at a conference, or in any
professional capacity without students' written permission, which
permission must be freely given and not coerced as a condition of the
With Turnitin.com, students' work is captured and held without their
permission. This goes against the grain of most writing pedagogy, which
premises that students are 'authors' and 'authorities' and owners of
their own work (coincidentally, the assumption used to establish
copyright). It also goes against the grain of one's right to their
intellectual property that Turnitin.com, in its pursuit of plagiarists,
seeks to uphold. So using Turnitin.com presents students with a double
If one uses Turnitin.com, they say to students something like this:
Plagiarism is wrong because it's the theft of another person's
intellectual property. Yet we don't trust you to follow that ethos, so
we're going to violate it ourselves to save you from your own
perfidity. We're going to take your property--your writing--and check
it here, in this place that will keep a copy of your work whether you
give permission for this or not. Sorry, it won't be just your property
anymore, it will also belong to Turnitin.com's database.
Wachsmuth, David. “Rosenfeld-1, McGill-0: Ad Hoc Panel Rules to Grade Arts Student’s Material Following Turnitin.com Saga.” The McGill Daily, 10 Jan. 2004. <http://www.mcgilldaily.com/view.php?aid=2166>.
Good article about the student from McGill (Canada’s premiere
university) who refused to use Turnitin.com and received a zero grade
for doing so. The school reversed itself and decided to grade the
student’s papers. McGill students are no longer required to submit
papers to Turnitin.
Ten months later, I'm still watching debates. Re last night's Clinton/Obama mash-up:
I thought the moderator's tilt toward Obama was obvious and annoying. Case in point was the question about Medvedev, the soon-to-be president-elect of Russia. How come Clinton had to answer the gotcha question ("Do you know his name?') and Obama didn't? It was actually pretty discouraging that neither candidate seemed to know much about him, but only Clinton got zinged.
Obama needs a suit jacket that fits him better. The one he was wearing gapped at the collar and bunched at the shoulders. Clinton was dressed better than she was in the last debate, where she looked like she borrowed a costume from The Count on Sesame Street.
This Tim Russert guy is a boor. He asks about reinvading Iraq if, in some hypothetical future, we withdraw, the Iraqi government can't keep control, and al Qaeda establishes itself there. He wastes time with a bizarre question about Louis Farrakhan and the minister of Obama's church. Apparently the minister said something nice about Farrakhan, who said something nice about Obama, and both the minister and Farrakhan went to Libya, and what did Barack think of that? Like, is that even a question?
Obama does well under fire. He maintains his cool, he doesn't personalize issues. He also doesn't talk down to his audience, but takes the time to explain things clearly. Case in point: the National Journal ranking of him as the "most liberal" member of Congress. He did a very good job of getting into the survey's suspect methodology. He also did well at explaining why he had voted with Clinton to extend funding for the Iraq war, using a good metaphor to the effect that once you've driven the bus into a ditch, there are only so many ways to get it out.
Clinton seemed whiny and petulant, complaining about how three questions in a row went to her first. The Saturday Night Live reference was clumsy and calculated. Later, while listening to Obama answer questions, she had Mean Face. All in all, not very Presidential demeanor (unless one includes the current occupant of the office in one's standards).
I think both candidates' health care plans are disappointing, since both ultimately depend on health insurance offered by for-profit companies whose primary goal is making money for their shareholders. I imagine that the health insurers are drooling in anticipation of a federal law compelling people to buy their products. Still, Clinton had the better argument here on the merits, while Obama's point is that he is more likely to get a health care bill passed.
In any contest, the guy (in this case, the woman) who starts out behind has to win, while the other guy merely needs a draw. So Clinton lost because she didn't win and Obama won because it was a tie.
. . . and the streets are ours. And I think variety is the spice of life, and I suspect that never before in the history of the Internets has Derek Trucks been paired with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
I sent an e-mail to my wife this morning: "Good news, honey. I've finally found a church we can join."
It seems that Pastor Paul Wirth, who leads (I'm not making this up) the "Relevant Church" in Ybor City, Florida, has announced that in an attempt to address the area's high divorce rate, he has exhorted his married congregants to have sex every day for a month. As the church states on its website:
People are not having enough sex. An epidemic of
breakups prove the needs that lead to a great sex life are being
overlooked. Dirty dishes, frumpy clothes, and a lack of authentic
connections are killing the romance. A great sex life is a challenge
and takes focus, determination, and planning. Some say it’s an
unrealistic goal, but we disagree. We believe you can have a great sex
life, in fact we believe God wants you to have a great sex life.
Well, praise Jeebus.
Leave it up to a church, though, to make something delightful seem like a chore. That bit about "focus, determination and planning" sounds a little grim, like saving for retirement or remodeling your laundry room.
I hope someone is keeping track of whether this idea actually works, because while it's easy to make fun of, who knows? It just might work.
[Editor's note: Former President Bill Clinton came to Toledo yesterday and spoke at the Toledo Technology Academy. My son Spencer attended. Below, edited only slightly, are his notes. All paternal bias aside, I think he has a great future in political reportage and analysis.]
Bill Clinton is a very charismatic speaker.
Rather than playing the role of “attack dog,” as he had been portrayed by the MSM, Clinton took on a positive, message-based role. He began with nostalgia: “Remember peace? Remember prosperity? Remember the 90s? Remember when I was president? We can have that again. Hillary Clinton is Bill Clinton Approved.”
Clinton then spoke on the wave of the future. “Here is how we can save the country from the recession that has already affected the Rust Belt. Alternative energy and green industry. Implementing this will bring new jobs, from blue collar to clerical to midlevel and high management to corporate leadership. It will create a healthier planet and energy independence. It will make us safer, as we won’t have to associate with Saudi Arabia (didn’t name names). The way to implement this is through technical vocational schools and technologically up-to-date, cutting edge education for all our students. The Toledo Technology Academy is a fine example of this. The candidate who understands this and has a plan to get this done is Hillary Clinton."
This was no professional, New Democratic “party of new industry professionals, social moderates and economic conservatives.” This was a real meat-and-potatoes “I’m Sticking With the Union!” kind of rally. Many organized labor representatives were there, referred to organized labor as “The Salt of the Earth.” Out with NAFTA, in with a message of new manufacturing jobs, new frontiers of blue-collar workers in green industries to be unionized. Feel was very working class, almost movie style working class.
Not an Edwards populist, though. No “them” to fight against specifically, but said it was “responsibility of top 1% to pay their taxes, so she will repeal that tax cut.” Did not talk about corporate greed, culture of corruption, Enrons, etc.
Clinton made a point of only mentioning Obama twice: once when referring to campaigning for other Democrats in his ex-Presidency, “including a rising Illinois State Senator named Barack Obama,” and once when talking about how he liked the election because it was bringing out the interest in politics, and spoke to how he like how Obama was getting young people’s interest, saying “that’s great.”
Hillary Clinton’s slogan is “Solutions for America.” This suggests that she has not just ideas and pipe dreams of change, but real plans. Bill said that hope and desire for change is not enough: one needs to have concrete plans and proven results, which Hillary clearly has. He said that “even if she was not my wife, I would still vote for Hillary because of the vision and solutions she will bring to America.” This gives a one-two punch of “She’s the right woman for the job, hands down,” and “I stand by my woman.”
"What do you mean when you talk about being in danger of a recession? Last time I checked in the working-class, true grit cities of Toledo, Flint, Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland, and other, we’ve been running a recession going on 4-6 years." Clinton didn’t specify exactly why, didn’t refer to free trade or protectionism, but said that many of the jobs Hillary’s green industry/energy investments would create would require physical, on-the-ground ops. “Last time I checked, to examine every public building in the country and figure out how to make them energy efficient, you gotta have a guy here on the roof.” Translation: these jobs won’t all be outsourced. "
Afghanistan is the real War on Terror. Hillary has earned respect of military families, as she is fighting to bring the boys home as soon as she can from Iraq." He quoted Marine Commandant saying he couldn’t beef up forces in Afghanistan without decreasing in Iraq. Did not mention Hillary or Obama’s positions on starting/ending the Iraq War.
Had a Utica-based Representative speak, who described speaking with an upstate New York farmer who told the Representative that he did good and might one day be able to be as close to the people as their great senator Hillary Clinton, who had never forgotten working-class, small-town, middle-American upstate New York. Said that this had earned her respect, and she won 40 of the 60 NY counties that had voted for Bush in the 2004 election. Clinton spoke of the admiration Republicans gave her for her legitimacy, her genuine concern for the country.
“Government’s job is to do something to help people and the country” or something like that. A commonly recurred-upon theme, the opposite of “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” It backtracks somewhat on the New Democratic “The Era of Big Government is over” theme, probably to suit her Union audience. Unions want nothing to do with deregulation and corporate experiments on the economy, and have no problem with government, big or small, telling them so.
I think he said something about the honor the campaign brought out and the honesty and goodness of all the candidates in the race, and their common desire to better the country (probably a shoutout to fellow Democrat Obama, fellow Arkansan Huckabee, and fellow “3rd way, middle of the road” (or at least portrayed that way) McCain. Like Obama, an attempt to make it a national unity message, not a partisan primary message. Creates an inevitability argument without the obnoxious way Hillary did it before. Now, it takes a leaf from Obama’s book, letting her sound presidential without having to talk issues. This lets her impress as many people as possible without them having to know much about politics or seem like just a person to have a beer with.
I would have a beer with Bubba. He was smooth, relaxed, and informal, but not as loose as he is sometimes portrayed. He seemed friendly, but focused on the task at hand, as if to say “I would be a good ole boy hillbilly Bubba now, but we’re in a recession and you’re losing the jobs you’ve worked hard at, so we need to roll up our sleeves and get down to business. Nevertheless, we’ll get it done, despite the adversity, and the beers afterward are on me.”
Strength: Toned down the angry-Bill image in favor of that of an experienced communicator speaking his mind on behalf of his candidate and wife, Hillary Clinton.
Weakness: Presented a cure-all in green industry/alternative energy. Furthermore, having the Clintons tie it to their agenda makes it seem like an industrial arm of the left. For green industry to take off, it must appeal to more than just the 50% that is Blue America. People must see it as the legitimate wave of the future it is, not just some sort of crackpot liberal plot to get money for a front industry while sticking it to valuable bastions of conservative business support like the oil industry.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Astronauts aboard the International Space Station apparently have access to a gun.Russian Cosmonauts carry a gun on their Soyuz space capsule, which is attached to the space station.
If the Ruskies got a gun, then why don't we have phasers?