Anti-cheating site TurnItIn sparks controversy

Last year, over 30 million student papers were submitted using, a plagiarism-detection Web site that some students and professors argue violates privacy and intellectual-property rights.

Professors subscribing to the service submit papers to be scanned for unoriginal material. The papers are then automatically archived in the Web site's database. Because TurnItIn offers to send professors complete copies of works that it identifies as the sources of plagiarized material, papers can be accessed without their authors ever receiving compensation or even notification of when and by whom their paper is being read.

At Geneseo, the decision to use or not use anti-plagiarism technology is left up to individual professors.

Dr. Robert Goeckel, a political-science professor who uses TurnItIn, said that the site's services are useful not just to catch academic dishonesty but also as a deterrent and even as a diagnostic tool to highlight an overabundance of direct quotes and other stylistic issues.

"TurnItIn is effective to the extent that it is utilized universally on campuses," he said, noting that many subjects and literary works lend themselves to only a finite amount of paper topics.

English department Chair Dr. Richard Finkelstein said that while anti-plagiarism sites are "crucial" to academia, he does not think that every single paper must or should be run through the software.

"It's usually pretty easy to tell a plagiarized paper…most professors aren't going to go to a Web site unless they already suspect something," he said.

He suggested that the sites could be used to prove plagiarism in already questionable papers rather than detect it, a method that would diminish much of the controversy.

Vice President of Student and Campus Life Dr. Robert Bonfiglio is concerned over the site.

"As a student, I would not feel comfortable turning over my intellectual property to some company to put in a massive database," he said.

Students had mixed views on the issue

"It's wrong to cheat, but I don't know if it [detecting cheating] is worth violations of privacy," said freshman Kevin Trova.

Freshman Elizabeth Hoffman voiced her support for the sites.

"I think they're good because students just pass their papers around…it's good for professors to be using," she said.