Friday, March 30, 2007

Students sue iParadigms LLC over alleged copyright violation with turnitin

The Washington Post reports on a case of two high-school students, two in Fairfax County, Virginia, and two in Arizona, who are taking iParadigms LLC to court over copyright violations. (Also blogged on RealTechNews in English and Golem in German.)

iParadigms LLC sells the plagiarism detection service "turnitin", which retains a copy of all papers submitted for use in future plagiarism detection. I obtained a legal expertise in 2004 from the Intellectual Property Helpdesk of the EU which noted that such a service is illegal according to EU copyright law (which ist, technically, not copyright but Urheberrecht oder droit d'auteur, author's rights in the French tradition) as it forces the creator of a work to do something with the work against his or her will.

In the US, copyright is the right to make copies and can actually be sold to a person, natural or legal. The students first registered their papers with a copyright authority before submitting them with explicit instructions not to store the papers, which was ignored by iParadigms.

The company, of course, insists that it is not violating the student's rights, so this is a perfect situation for a legal test: straight-A students objected to being considered plagiators, to having to prove their innocence instead of being assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Students at other schools such as McGill and Mount St. Vincent University in Canada have succesfully protested the use of turnitin without getting a court opinion. This case may eventually make it's way to the Supreme Court so that this bit of copyright law can be determined. The students are to be lauded for their courage in exercising their rights in this question.

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