High schoolers in Northern Virginia are complaining about their school's use of a service that checks papers for plagiarism by comparing assignments to a huge database, The Washington Post reports.
The newly formed Committee for Students' Rights at McLean High School objects to administrators hiring Turnitin, self-described as the "worldwide standard for online plagiarism prevention." The California company compares student papers against a database of more than 22 million other papers. The students say that they don't condone cheating but are protesting Turnitin's automatically adding their essays to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights.
"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."
Administrators say that the Internet has made it too easy to plagiarize. But there are other legal issues being discussed regarding detection services such as Turnitin.
"There's a lot of debate out there," said Rebecca Ingalls, a University of Tampa English professor who has analyzed Turnitin. "These students are giving their work to a company that's making money and they are getting no compensation."
A study done by the Center for Academic Integrity, affiliated with Duke University's Kenan Institute for Ethics, surveyed 18,000 public and private high school students over four years and found that more than 60 percent admitted to some form of plagiarism, according to a 2005 report.
That finding has helped companies such as Turnitin grow in recent years to serve more than 6,000 academic institutions in 90 countries.
"None of our clients want to catch cheaters," said Turnitin founder John M. Barrie. "They all want to deter cheaters. Just like a proctor in an SAT exam or like a referee on a football field."