April 02, 2007

Plagiarism detectives in breach of copyright?

Writing about web page http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/28/AR2007032802038.html

Incredible – what will they think of next in this tangled web of legal nonsense! Apparently some US students are launching a law suit against Turnitin because the plagiarism detection software relies on copies of their essays being submitted to the software company. If only their school had thought to have the students sign a declaration that the copyright to all their schoolwork belonged to the school who could do what they wanted with it…


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  1. Steven Carpenter

    In the UK it’s arguably more clear; the processing of student work through a source-matching service can be considered necessary for the legitimate academic interests of the University and is justified under Ground 6 of Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998, independent of any IP issues.

    02 Apr 2007, 20:44

  2. Jenny Delasalle

    Sounds like a great read :-) Thanks for pointing that out, Steve, its good to know.

    03 Apr 2007, 09:30

  3. Steven Carpenter

    I know – I actually read it once too.

    I took the rather verbose wording from a student guide I wrote a while ago about source-matching. You can find that here.

    03 Apr 2007, 10:13

  4. Max Hammond

    In the UK it’s arguably more clear; the processing of student work through a source-matching service can be considered necessary for the legitimate academic interests of the University and is justified under Ground 6 of Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998, independent of any IP issues.

    DPA 1998 doesn’t override the IP problem, merely means that you don’t necessarily have a data protection problem. The student will still own the copyright in the work they created, so lodging it in anything including a matching service could be illegal. Checking it against some other source is probably fine.

    03 Apr 2007, 12:41

  5. Max Hammond

    Obviously, that wasn’t meant to be crossed through :-)

    03 Apr 2007, 12:42

  6. Jenny Delasalle

    But presumably if a school or university were to claim copyright of all their students’ work, through regulations or such like to which students have signed agreement, then there would be no issue at all.

    03 Apr 2007, 13:44

  7. What about adding an explanation to the prospectus to make plainly clear that, in order to ensure fairness of marking and maintain high academic standards, students enrolled in taught programmes are requested to agree that their assignments be stored, processed and in a way published electronically by the university.

    With this in place any student wanting to sue the university would be very unlikely to succeed.

    Same goes for research students but of course here the caveat would need to be more elaborate.

    12 Apr 2007, 12:56

  8. Just to point out… you agree on application that all copyrights of the essays you write as a student at Warwick are held by the University. Which annoyed me somewhat but given this case of legal wrangling I can see how it might have been necessary.

    13 Apr 2007, 15:38

  9. Clayton Jones

    Hamid, just out of interest, specifically which application form was this that you refer to (I would be interested in identifying exactly which form this is out of the multitude of documents sent to new students!). Also, what specifically did the wording say in relation to all copyright rights being passed to the University?

    Many thanks.

    16 Apr 2007, 09:29


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