Daily Archives: April 2, 2007

Turn it Off

Kudos to the bloggers at ACRL! I wasn’t in Baltimore but just reading the blog got a good sense of the usual intellectual overload. Wow!

Meanhwile . . . high School students have sued the plagiarism-detection giant, Turnitin, for … well, not plagiarism, but something that’s actually a criminal offense. Copyright violation.

According to the Washington Post story

“All of these kids are essentially straight-A students, and they have no interest in plagiarizing,” said Robert A. Vanderhye, a McLean attorney representing the students pro bono. “The problem with [Turnitin] is the archiving of the documents. They are violating a right these students have to be in control of their own property.” . . .

“You can’t take a person’s work and run it through a computer and make an honest person out of them,” Wade [one of the plaintiff's parents ] said. “My son’s major objection is that he does not cheat, and this assumes he does. This case is not about money, and we don’t expect to get that.”

Andrew Beckerman-Rodau, co-director of the intellectual property law program at Suffolk University Law School, said that although the law regarding fair use is subject to interpretation, he thinks the students have a good case.

“Typically, if you quote something for education purposes, scholarship or news reports, that’s considered fair use,” Beckerman-Rodau said. “But it seems like Turnitin is a commercial use. They turn around and sell this service, and it’s expensive. And the service only works because they get these papers.”

Reminds me of the systems being designed to locate copyright violations by massively copying people’s Webpages. Copyright violation is okay so long as it catches plagiarists and copyright violators? That’s like saying breaking and entering a whole neighborhood of houses is okay so long as you’re looking for goods stolen while breaking and entering. Or to to scare people who might consider breaking and entering. That’ll learn you!

I know a lot of libraries are involved in using Turnitin at their institutions to help educate students about plagiarism (or, at least, put the frighteners on). I’ve seen pedagogical arguments made about Turnitin, both pro and con. But what does it teach students about the sanctity of intellectual property (if there is such a thing) to catch theft by systematically taking their words? Isn’t that a mixed message at best?

Register Now For A Google Course

As if Google wasn’t already getting enough attention in the mass media, now that fascination with Google is expanding into college classrooms. Courses about Google are appearing with greater frequency in college curriculums. These courses are typically offered in the computer science area, and often focus on the technical aspects of Google. But some newer Google courses are focusing on the search engine’s impact on society or culture. One such course at Duke is doing just that. The course is called “Google: the Computer Science Within and Its Impact on Society“. The course is described as follows:

The Internet and World Wide Web have become repositories of the sum total of human knowledge, thoughts, intentions, and actions. Web search technology in general, and Google in particular, is the all-important tool we have today to extract actionable information from this vast mine of data. Millions of people use Google daily to satisfy their wants, needs, fears, and obsessions, which Google has transformed into an immensely successful and growing business. A not so obvious fact about Google is that its impressive array of services are based on basic concepts of Computer Science spanning information retrieval, databases, distributed systems, human computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and data mining. This course explores the science behind Google’s technology, the social and economic impacts of this technology, and the ethical issues (privacy and censorship) surrounding this technology.

It’s fine that faculty are developing courses that may assist students in better understanding how Google is changing our world. But a course like this seems to offer an opportunity to learn more about the library research environment as well, and where it fits into or is associated with the search engine universe. Some faculty who teach these Google courses may disagree. But for a faculty member to make a statement about the web as the “sum total of human knowledge”…well, that’s just wrong. It also sends a message to students that reinforces the myth that all the information they’ll need is available for free on the Internet. Creating a session in this course devoted to the library research environment would educate students about their information options, and provide awareness that the Internet doesn’t have the sum total of all knowledge. After all, in a course devoted to Google, doesn’t the library deserve some equal time.