"Honest students have nothing to worry about"
Anyway, the reason I feel so slimy: when you submit work to turnitin, you feel like you've already done something wrong, even if you're damn sure you haven't. Just reading their website makes me feel all horrible. It ranges from bizarre:
"In the trial version of Turnitin.com, I have been amazed at the immediate results and feedback for what I suspected. Now I simply threaten them with (like--"You just wait till your father gets home) "I'm going to submit this to Turnitin.com"!"(and syntactically incorrect - try parsing the speech marks) to hilarious:
"I submitted a student's essay because it was suspect. It turned out to be totally plagiarized. It turned into a great teaching moment!"Doesn't that ...textbite exude cheerful enthusiasm for catching, like, totally plagiarized, like, work. I'm glad I've never had to be a part of such a great teaching moment.
See, that's the thing about turnitin. There's the ability for it to be used as a deterrent - I think that's a great idea. So, if a lecturer thinks a report is suspicious they check it with turnitin and use the results to evaluate it - fine. But that's not how it's being used. Instead, everybody in the class submits their work to turnitin. The reason for this isn't really that it makes it easier for the markers (there are nicer ways to electronically submit work, even at Auckland), but because it's in turnitin's best interests. When you submit your work, as you must for it to be marked, you sign away your rights as the author to turnitin: they get to keep your work in their database and use your original work to make a profit. It's pretty easy to see, then, why turnitin would prefer the model where everybody's work is submitted.
Even the lecturer-submitted model is pretty dodgy: from everything I've read, it seems that even lecturer-submitted work goes into the database. That's a genuine concern: when you submit your paper to your lecturer/professor/whatever, you're doing it for evaluative purposes. There's no reason for you suspect that your work is going to be stored in an American company's database for them to do with as they please. I think as an author (and copyright owner, since NZ law states that an individual's work is placed under copyright as soon as it leaves that person's mind and is placed in some physical form) that's at best a disservice, and at worst dishonest and an insult.
Oh, they'll say it's perfectly fine. Take a look at this sidestepping from Patrick Runkle an 'Editor' at Turnitin.
As always, students are free to advocate changes in the laws of their countries or in the policies of their institutions, but claiming that Turnitin violates current law or forces students to give up their copyrights is simply not accurate.You see, technically, he's absolutely correct. Turnitin doesn't require that students give up their copyrights. It does, however, (for it to be legal) require students to grant turnitin a license to use their work in whatever way turnitin sees fit. Here, Runkle is using the legal distinction between copyright in a work and a license to use a work to weasel his way out of addressing student concerns. Let's consider another one:
Papers screened by our system are never declared "guilty" or "innocent."Again, Runkle is correct - it doesn't. It does, however, give a nice number between 0 and 100 - an 'overall similarity index'. Pretending that a figure of, say, 94% won't carry the connotation of the person being 94% guilty is dishonest.
If you're really interested in the legal implications of the service, I suggest the Australian legal document (warning: pdf) they host on their website. There's, as far as I can see, no mention of New Zealand law, but from what I understand the colonies are all pretty similar for copyright law. My favourite bit is:
The likelihood of a copyright owner taking action in respect of an infringement is similarly remote (although not completely inconceivable), especially if an express license were granted by each student, by each student being required to sign an assignment cover sheet which granted such license.I never signed any such sheet! Anyway, here's an opinion that I endorse.
Edit: ...and that's what you get when you post at 3:30am. Sorry. I'd like to rewrite the bits that don't make sense, but I can't be bothered.