Students Reach Settlement in Turnitin Suit

A two-year battle over copyright infringement between four students and Turnitin, a commerical plagiarism-detection service, came to an apparent end last Friday in a settlement that prohibits either party from taking further legal action.

The high-school students first sued iParadigms, Turnitin’s parent company, in 2007 for copyright infringement, saying the company took their papers against their will and then made a profit from them.The students’ high schools required them to use the service, which scans papers for plagiarism and then adds them to its database, which students argued could easily be hacked.

But the students and their lawyers were handed two decisions against them — first from the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., in March 2008 and again this April from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The Chronicle reported in March 2008 that the district-court judge said Turnitin’s actions fell under fair use, ruling that the company “makes no use of any work’s particular expressive or creative content beyond the limited use of comparison with other works.” He also said the new use “provides a substantial public benefit.”

The April opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision, and sent back to the lower court a complaint by iPardigm under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that stated that one of the students had gained unauthorized access to Turnitin.

Friday’s settlement puts an end to that complaint as well as any further legal action by the students — including an anticipated Supreme Court appeal. But a blog post on Anon-a-blog suggests that one of the lawyers for the students, Robert A. Vanderhye, could take up the issue with a different group of students.

“Now the search goes out for any student who has a paper that’s being held by TurnItIn that they did not upload themselves,” the post said.

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