Library Issues

TurnItIn and copyright infringement

All I can say is that it’s about time some students got upset about TurnItIn (no link love from me). I expected that it would be a university student somewhere that realized what they were doing, but nope…it was high school kids.

The for-profit service known as Turnitin checks student work against a database of more than 22 million papers written by students around the world, as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals. School administrators said the service, which they will start using next week, is meant to deter plagiarism at a time when the Internet makes it easy to copy someone else’s words.

But some McLean High students are rebelling. 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 that the school’s action will tar students at one of Fairfax County’s academic powerhouses.

Indeed. I asked TurnItIn representatives years ago at an ALA Midwinter conference how long they thought they could maintain their business model without compensating students for increasing their databases…no suprisingly, they didn’t really respond to my question.

I have long thought that they were getting away with something in the IP arena. Yes, I’m sure they’ve covered their legal bases with click-through licenses and such, but everyone knows those are only good until challenged. I see a class action suit on the way…students who’s work was used to produce profits for TurnItIn should see some of that profit, I think.

I actually spoke up here at UTC during my last faculty plagiarism workshop against TiI. Several of the faculty knew of it, but didn’t understand how it worked or what you got from it…although there were a couple of strident defenders of it in the room, I got across my rather strong feelings on the subject. It’s just wrong, even apart from the IP issues, in the same way that strip searches at the airport are wrong…trading liberties for an illusion of security (or in the case of TurnItIn, trading trust and honestly for guilty until proven innocent) is not the sort of image that our institutes of higher education should be dealing in.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

4 replies on “TurnItIn and copyright infringement”

At the same time, TiI automates a rather tiresome and exhaustive process. We can make all sorts of statements like “trading trust and honestly for guilty until proven innocent” but the fact is that students cheat. If we presume innocence until an accusation of cheating is made — who will make that accusation? Other students? No. The faculty/graduates students/instructors/etc who are grading papers are given the burden of identifying cheating — a task that is decidedly non-trivial. I’m not saying I love TiI, but there tool is valuable.

Students cheat, yes…and people break the law. Would you agree to a GPS being implanted in your car to alert the police when you were speeding?

The onus of identifying academic ethics violations of ALL sorts is in the hands of the faculty and staff of the university in question…and, IMNSHO, should stay there. TiI is a tool, but it is a tool that unjustifiably puts the IP of the student into the hands of a for-profit company. There are other tools available that do not do this. I would still have a problem with some of them for the reason that you pull-quoted above…

It’s up to us to notice that a student isn’t performing at his/her level, investigate why, and determine what’s happening…whether that level is too high OR too low. If a student is performing at a level that is too high (that you believe is too high) then by all means: investigate! But the sort of “check everyone” mentality is far too oppressive for me.

Sadly although I disagree with what does I believe that any lawsuit on the above mentioned terms would be easy shot down. A friend of mine and I looked into doing just that. ( said I plagiarized from myself). Under the investigation we found something even rouse than the above mentioned problems. takes the intellectual property rights on your paper as there own. It is in the small print that you agree to when you create an account. This is a perfect defense legally form the type of law suit you are talking about. The paper after it is turned in is there’s to do with as they pls.

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