David Canton had an article on Canoe yesterday about the use of the plagiarism detector service, Turnitin.com. For those who weren’t aware of the case at the time, several students sued Turnitin.com last year, claiming that the service violated their copyright and was making a profit off their work. The court sided with Turnitin.com, in part, because when students submit their work to the service, they are consenting to having it stored.
I personally disagreed with the court’s opinion, because students are often given no choice about submitting their work — their professors make it a condition of passing the assignment or course. Many educators, in my opinion, have been essentially coercing students into creating a digital record of their thoughts and opinions — records that might come back to haunt them in the future. Of course, someone might reasonably point out that the gripe would be with the educators and not the service, but to the extent that Turnitin.com was storing records that the student authors did not want stored but had no real choice about consenting to, I viewed it as a privacy invasion.
Now Canton reports that the issue is not totally dead. He writes:
However, this may not signal the end of the controversy surrounding turnitin. Legal action is being contemplated by other student groups unhappy with the policies of Turnitin. Some institutions have discussed eliminating the use of the service or letting professors decide if it should be used on a class-by-class basis.
It is not the concept of Turnitin that is being objected to by students, it is the manner in which the service is being operated.
It will be interesting to see what develops. The court felt that the benefits of turnitin.com outweighed the concerns of the students who filed the first lawsuit. But in this day and age, is creating a non-optional digital record of a student’s thoughts and opinions really a small thing that is outweighed by the convenience or tool it provides educators who want to rule out plagiarism? What do you think?