Saturday, October 07, 2006

Copyright, Creative Commons and Turnitin.com

I'm taking a postgraduate course at the University of Auckland called Media, Sound and Music. I suggested to the class that instead of using the horrible university LMS called Cecil, we use the social networking environment called Last.fm because it's an environment based around listening and talking about music. I created a group for the class and we've been using the forums to hold discussions, post links, etc.

On Wednesday of last week I posted this to our class forum:


Copyright, Intellectual Property and Turnitin.com

I'm going to bring this up here because while not related to music it is an interesting issue in regards to intellectual property debates and copyright -- and because for this course, we are 'required' to use Turnitin.com.

There has been some discussion, primarily amongst some American high school students, that claims (quite rightly I think) that students have intellectual property rights to their writing and that this makes problematic Turnitin's compilation of student texts. While Turnitin.com claims fair use (not even sure if we have a fair use law in NZ... anyone?) institutions such as the U of A are requiring students to give away their work to be used by a third party, for-profit vendor. I'm not that good on copyright but I reckon that if I was to apply a Creative Commons license like the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/) to my work, which it would seem that I'm perfectly legally allowed to do as I automatically own the copyright on anything that I produce, this would actually prohibit this work from being submitted to Turnitin.com, because arguably their database, that includes all our aggregated work in electronic format, is supporting the efficacy of their business model - which to me would violate my 'non-commercial' clause.

In an open letter from the Writing Department of the Grand Valley State University in Michigan they also pointed out that use of such services:

"...emphasizes the policing of student behavior and texts over good-faith assumptions about students’ integrity, and can shift attention away from teaching students how to avoid plagiarism in the first place."

This is a pedagogical decision/stance which I just picked on as another angle to think this thing through... well, more for XXXX really, but I do think that there's an interesting parallel between what is going here and issues around the copying of music, questions of copyright and intellectual property. We're all making digital artifacts for most of our courses while at university and I think that we need to think critically about the consequences (small as they may be at this point) of allowing our digital artifacts to be distributed to services like this without even really questioning the ethics or implications.

What do you think?

Readings:
The Politics of Plagiarism Detection Services
Issues Raised by Use of Turnitin Plagiarism Detection Software

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On Thursday we got this course email from the professor:

Hi everyone,

I've raised the issue of turnitin.com with colleagues for consideration.

For the purposes of this course, you DO NOT have to submit a copy of any of your further coursework to turnitin.com.

If you wish you can send me an electronic copy (pdf) version but you do not have to do that.
Make sure you have a copy of that file or another hard copy just in case it should get lost.

But for FTVMS 738, simply one hard copy by the due date is fine.

thanks

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I'm not going to wax on about this too much ... i think the correspondence speaks for itself. While initially I thought that I was annoyed by turnitin.coms assumption that they could make use of my digital artifact for their business model by obfuscating the details of the model inside a rather lengthy EULA (which includes your agreement to be tried (extradited?) in Alameda Country, California for reverse engineering their technology!), in the end I was more annoyed at the institutions subtle implication that we were all plagiarizing in the first place and that it was easier to farm this dirty work out to a third-party than educate students about plagiarism. My fees are paying for this service?

I'm tempted to bring this up on a larger institutional level as well as start promoting the understanding and use of creative commons licenses amongst students as a way to protect the rights for their work not to be used by such authoritarian surveillance systems.

There is a little problem for me though here, and I'm caught in a bit of a quandry about it. I actually don't agree with the non-commercial license for the licensing of open content. You see the non-commercial restriction can have the effect of closing an open educational resource (OER) to just the type of use that the I'd like to promote, that of developing societies and those with low bandwidth issues. The non-commercial restriction would not, for example, legally permit a local community institution to package a print version of my content for resale on a cost recovery basis for printing, packaging and overhead. Secondly, the NC license is incompatible with other free content projects. You cannot mix material with a free content license (usually GNU Free Documentation License) with material that has a Creative Commons license with the NC restriction. This prevents OER projects gaining economies of scale by taking advantage of the explosive growth of free content from other open projects like Wikipedia. (see this recent speech by John Daniel: Exploring the role of ICTs in addressing educational needs: identifying the myths and the miracles). So I guess for my assignments i'll consider covering them by the NC license to keep this little piece of power in my pocket (and to prove a point), but for everything else i'll just go Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5.

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