Turnitin.com, an antiplagiarism web service frequently used by college professors, won a major battle last Thursday when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in its favor, as reported by Ars Technica. Although I'm usually one to come out in favor of students' rights, this one seems like a no-brainer and all I have to say is STOP FREAKING PLAGIARIZING!
Turnitin works by scanning uploaded student papers for suspicious passages, comparing student works to online resources, and checking papers against other student works previously identified as plagiarized. According to Ars,
...teachers can also ask TurnItIn to archive the uploaded papers, adding them to the database so they can be used to suss out plagiarism in future essays. It was this practice—along with the fact that TurnItIn uploads were required in order to get a grade—that led students in Virginia and Arizona to sue TurnItIn for copyright infringement back in 2007.
Well guess what, kids? Both a federal court and the federal court of appeals felt that this actually constituted "fair use" of the students' papers. To me, the original suit just sounded like a thinly veiled attempt to stop the use of Turnitin, not to protect students' copy rights and intellectual property.
Plagiarism bothers me on countless levels, but more than anything, because students are cheating themselves out of learning the most important "21st Century Skill" they can acquire. The ability to synthesize, make sense of, explain, and use information gleaned from a variety of sources in this digital age is vital to their future success.
Why do so many students find it so hard to simply read, take notes, and then write a paper? It can all be done with slick software tools (or just a word processor and a web browser) and the ability will make them eminently employable. Sure, cutting and pasting is a piece of cake, but the entire Turnitin debacle can be eliminated if students simply hone their research skills.
This needs to start in primary school and be beaten into their heads through graduate school. Read, synthesize, report. Learn everything you can and then tell me what you learned. Come on kids...put Turnitin out of business because you've mastered an essential skill, not because of some vain attempts at legal maneuvering.