My friend Dawno alerted me to this story about anti-plagiarism service Turnitin.com being sued for copyright violation by four students. Turnitin is a service contracted by universities and schools. Faculty submit student papers for analysis by Turnitin which compares the text to papers stored in an internal database and to text stored on the Web; Turnitin uses an algorithm based-text-string analysis of the sort an experienced teacher engages in when we use our own skills and Google to spot plagiarism. Turnitin looks for strings that match within a few characters, and then provides a “report” that color codes text and and offers statistics and URLs.
I’ve had problem with the concepts behind Turnitin right from the start; I blogged about my concerns regarding violating student’s rights some time ago. Now, students are suing Turnitin for copyright violation because their papers are databased and used for subsequent comparisons without their permission; I suspect we’ll see a privacy violation, particularly in the context of FERPA soon.