A student at McGill University in Toronto has won his fight to not be required to submit his classwork to turnitin.com as a prerequisite of having the papers graded. Turnitin.com is a company (emphasis on American company in the story :-) that maintains a database of student work, documents on the web and published research papers. Teachers with accounts then upload student papers to the web site to have them compared with the material in the database to determine if the work has been plagiarized. As a side benefit for the teacher, the site will also evaluate the paper for spelling and grammatical errors.

In this case (the article doesn’t say if it was ruled on by a court or the university), the student objected to the school policy of requiring the use of the site because it’s "offensive to most students who are honest and work hard to create original material". He also noted that the company is making a profit from student work added to their database.

We have several high schools in our district that subscribe to turnitin for their teachers, although I don’t think any school makes it’s use mandatory. I haven’t heard of any of our students objecting to use of the site but I do see the McGill student’s point. Although plagiarism is pretty common in school these days (not to mention major news organizations!), it’s the teacher’s job to evaluate student work and that includes detecting when they’re submitting work that’s not their own. The issue of profiting from student work without their consent or compensation is not debatable. It’s wrong!

Thanks to Slashdot for the story link.