Students sue plagiarism service for copyright infringement

Turnitin.com added papers to permanent database, suit alleges, even though students registered copyright and instructed "do not archive."

Turning the tables on an anti-plagiarism service, four high school students have brought suit against the online service claiming that it violates copyright law, Turnitin, a service that compares student term papers and essays against a database of more than 22 million student papers, online sources and journal archives, to see if students have plagiarized. At issue is whether the company adds the students' papers to a databbase without permission.

"All of these kids are essentially straight-A students, and they have no interest in plagiarizing," said Robert A. Vanderhye, an attorney representing the students pro bono. "The problem with [Turnitin] is the archiving of the documents. They are violating a right these students have to be in control of their own property."

The students obtained copyright registration for the papers they submitted to Turnitin. A letter specifying not to archive the paper was submitted, as well. The lawsuit, filed against Turnitin's parent company, iParadigms LLC, seeks $150,000 for each of six papers written by the students.

"Typically, if you quote something for education purposes, scholarship or news reports, that's considered fair use," said Andrew Beckerman-Rodau, co-director of the intellectual property law program at Suffolk University Law School. "But it seems like Turnitin is a commercial use. They turn around and sell this service, and it's expensive. And the service only works because they get these papers."

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