There is a huge debate brewing between some lawyers and college professors over whether or not plagiarism-detection services infringe upon students' copyrights and privacy. The one particular service creating this uproar is Turnitin.com, a plagiarism-detection service that has approximately 400 colleges in the United States on its client list. The company checks submitted papers against a database of manuscripts, books, journals, and Web sites, trying to pinpoint phrases that appear to be unoriginal. However, after checking the papers that have been submitted for inspection, the company then retains the papers in order to increase the size of their database. According to some professors, detainment of student papers is a violation under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which bars colleges from releasing personal information about students without their consent.
Mr. Barrie, founder of Turnitin.com, contends that colleges are not in violation of FERPA by submitting papers to Turnitin.com because the work is not distributed elsewhere. Further, Mr. Barrie encourages professors to warn students that copies of their papers will be checked and kept by the plagiarism-detection service, and to request students' permission or have them upload their work to the company's database themselves. This way, students will not be able to argue that their papers were submitted to Turnitin.com without their knowledge or consent. For more information concerning this present controversy, viewers can log onto the first article presented by The Chronicle. Article two presents persuasive views from teachers who are looking for ways to combat the easy cheating offered through the Web, while article three presents compelling views from students who find cheating as a means to get ahead. The fourth article offers teacher strategies to combat cheating, while links five and six are plagiarism-detection services by Turnitin.com and Copycatch. Finally, the last site offers information on FERPA by the Family Policy Compliance Office.