Members of the new Committee for Students' Rights said they do not cheat or condone cheating. But they object to Turnitin's automatically adding their essays to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights. And they contend the school's action will tar students at one of Fairfax County's academic powerhouses.The issue isn't new--colleges have been wrestling with the legal and ethical implications for over four years now. Apparently the program has an astounding error rate:
"It irked a lot of people because there's an implication of assumed guilt," said Ben Donovan, 18, a senior who helped collect 1,190 student signatures on a petition against mandatory use of the service. "It's like if you searched every car in the parking lot or drug-tested every student."
Similarly, Virginia's Mr. Bloomfield says it would be an injustice if Turnitin.com was forced to stop providing its service because of a legal complication....Well, Professor B., if over half the students "caught" by the website were cleared of charges, perhaps it just might sour the relationship between teachers and students? A smart professor armed with Google and amazon.com can catch perps about as efficiently. Teachers who assign the same projects and papers every year are only asking for trouble.
After his own computer program flagged 157 papers at Virginia for suspected plagiarism, the professor turned the cases over to the university's honor committee in April 2001. Forty-three of the students were found guilty after a trial or admitted plagiarism, and 88 were cleared; trials are pending in most of the remaining cases.
He says Turnitin.com and other plagiarism-detection services do more than just ferret out plagiarists: They improve the higher-education system by helping to attach more meaning to students' grades, and they make dishonest students realize that it doesn't pay to use any means necessary to get ahead.
"If copyright problems make it difficult to ensure the integrity of the classroom, how does this benefit society? How does this benefit the students?" he asks. "What important right of students is being preserved by barring a service from retaining a copy of their paper?"
Let me be clear: I despise plagiarism. That presents no justification, though, for republishing a student's copyrighted work without her consent, especially by sending it to a company that will profit from it. It would be like gathering essays for an assignment, secretly publishing them as a book, and pocketing the royalties.
Say no to literary sweatshops. Say no to turnitin.com