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Turnitin logo.png
Developer(s) iParadigms, LLC
Platform Internet
Type educational
Website turnitin.com

Turnitin is an Internet-based plagiarism-prevention service created by iParadigms, LLC, first launched in 1997. Typically, universities and high schools buy licenses to submit essays to the Turnitin website, which checks the documents for unoriginal content. The results can be used to identify similarities to existing sources or can be used in formative assessment to help students learn how to avoid plagiarism and improve their writing.[1]

Students may be required by schools to submit essays to Turnitin, as a deterrent to plagiarism. This has been a source of criticism, with some students refusing to do so in the belief that requiring it constitutes a presumption of guilt. Additionally, critics have alleged that use of the software violates educational privacy and intellectual property laws.

Parent company iParadigms, LLC, also offers a similar plagiarism detection service for newspaper editors, book and magazine publishers called iThenticate, and runs the informational website Plagiarism.org. Other tools included with the Turnitin suite are GradeMark (online grading and feedback) and PeerMark (peer review) services. Turnitin released the WriteCycle Suite on February 3, 2009. WriteCycle bundles the Originality Checking service with its GradeMark online grading tools and PeerMark tools. Turnitin released Turnitin2 on September 4, 2010, dropping the "WriteCycle" nomenclature.[2]


Turnitin checks for potential unoriginal content by comparing submitted papers to several databases using a proprietary algorithm. It scans its own databases, and also has licensing agreements with large academic proprietary databases.

Student paper database[edit]

The essays submitted by students are stored in a database used to check for plagiarism. This prevents one student from using another student's paper, by identifying matching text between papers.

In addition to student papers, the database contains a copy of the publicly accessible internet, with the company using a webcrawler to continually add to the web archive, observing for robots.txt exclusions. It also contains commercial pages from books, newspapers, and journals.

Classroom integration[edit]

Students typically upload their papers—as individual documents—directly to the service, for teachers to access later on. Teachers may also submit student papers to Turnitin.com as individual files, a bulk upload, or a ZIP file. Teachers can also set up the assignment analysis options so that students can review their originality reports before they make their final submission. A peer-review option is also available.

Some virtual learning environments can be configured to support Turnitin, so that student assignments can be automatically submitted for originality analysis. Blackboard, Moodle, ANGEL, Instructure, Desire2Learn, Pearson Learning Studio, Sakai, and Studywiz provide various forms of Turnitin integration.[3]



The U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits disclosing confidential information about students to third parties without their or their families' permission. Critics of Turnitin argue that sending papers to Turnitin without student permission thus violates their rights.[citation needed]

Turnitin claims its archiving of student papers complies with FERPA, since the statute only applies at two points: when it is transmitted to them, and when it is released from the database when a match is found with another submission. In the former case it is not considered part of the educational record since it has not yet been graded, and in the latter it does not divulge personal identifying information.[4][broken citation] The Family Compliance Policy Office (FCPO), the Department of Education responsible for enforcing FERPA, originally stated that institutions may submit student papers to Turnitin only if they remove all personally identifiable information from the papers.[5][broken citation]

The Student Union at Dalhousie University has criticized the use of Turnitin at Canadian universities because the American government may be able to access the submitted papers and personal information in the database under the USA PATRIOT Act.[6] Mount Saint Vincent University became the first Canadian university to ban Turnitin's service partly because of implications of the USA PATRIOT Act.[7][broken citation]

Concerns about violation of student copyright in the United States[edit]

Since Turnitin archives all papers which it receives and it sells its services including that database, for profit, the company has also been charged with violating student copyright since creators are granted exclusive reproduction rights by Title 17 of the United States Code.[citation needed] Turnitin founder John Barrie claims the company is merely making fair use of student work since, despite iParadigms' profiting from use or sale of the software, it is ultimately for educational purposes.[citation needed]

Lawyers for the company also claim that student work is covered under the theory of implied license to evaluate, since it would be pointless to write the essays if they were not meant to be graded. That implied license thus grants permission to copy, reproduce and preserve, it says. Dissertations and theses, the company's lawyers claim, also carry with them the implied permission to archive in a publicly accessible collection such as a university library.[8]

University of Minnesota Law School professor Dan Burk countered that the company's use of the papers may not meet the fair-use test for several reasons:

  • The company copies the entire paper, not just a portion
  • Students' work is often original, interpretive and creative rather than just a compilation of established facts
  • Turnitin is a commercial enterprise[9]

When a group of students filed suit against Turnitin on that basis, in Vanderhye et al. v. iParadigms LLC, the district court found the practice within fair use; on appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.[10]

Presumption of guilt[edit]

Some students argue that requiring them to submit papers to Turnitin creates a presumption of guilt, which may violate scholastic disciplinary codes and applicable local laws and judicial practice. Some teachers and professors support this argument when attempting to discourage their schools from joining Turnitin.[11][broken citation]


iParadigms, the company behind Turnitin, runs another website called WriteCheck[12] where students can submit their papers to be tested against the same database used by Turnitin, and determine whether or not their paper will be detected as plagiarism. Alex Tabarrok complained that "They are warlords who are arming both sides in this plagiarism war". [13]


In one well-publicized dispute over mandatory Turnitin submissions, Jesse Rosenfeld, a student at McGill University declined to submit his academic work to Turnitin. The University Senate eventually ruled that Rosenfeld's assignments were to be graded without using Turnitin.[14] In 2005 another McGill student, Denise Brunsdon, refused to submit her assignment to Turnitin.com and won a similar ruling from the Senate Committee on Student Grievances.[15] A few other Canadian universities are currently in the process of either total or partial ban of this service. On March 6, 2006, the Senate at Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia prohibited the submission of students’ academic work to Turnitin.com and any software that requires students' work to become part of an external database where other parties might have access to it.[16] This decision was granted after the students’ union alerted the university community of their legal and privacy concerns associated with the use of Turnitin.com and other anti-plagiarism devices that profit from students’ academic work. This was the first campus-wide ban of its kind in Canada,[17] following decisions by Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Stanford in the US not to use Turnitin.[18]

At Ryerson University (Toronto), students may decide whether to submit their work to Turnitin.com or make alternate arrangements with the instructor.[19]

On March 27, 2007, with the help of an intellectual property attorney, two students from McLean High School (with assistance from the Committee For Students' Rights) and two students attending Desert Vista High School, filed suit in United States Circuit Court (Eastern District, Alexandria Division) alleging copyright infringement by iParadigms, Turnitin's parent company.[20] Nearly a year later, Judge Claude M. Hilton granted summary judgment on the students' complaint in favor of iParadigms/Turnitin,[21] because they had accepted the click-wrap agreement on the Turnitin website. The students appealed the ruling,[22] and on April 16, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Judge Hilton's judgment in favor of iParadigms/Turnitin.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/12666/1/41.pdf
  2. ^ http://turnitin.com/static/what_is_new.html
  3. ^ "Turnitin Integrations". iParadigms, LLC. 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  4. ^ Family Policy Compliance Office (2006). "Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)". Retrieved 2007-01-28. [dead link]
  5. ^ McDiarmid, Jess (2006-03-16). "DSU takes on Turnitin.com". Gazette. Dalhousie University. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  6. ^ Halfnight, Drew; Kristina Jarvis and Josh Visser (2006-11-15). "Turnitin risks privacy". Excalibur Online. York University. Retrieved 2009-03-20.  [dead link]
  7. ^ Foster, Andrea L.; May 17, 2002; Plagiarism-Detection Tool Creates Legal Quandary; The Chronicle of Higher Education; retrieved September 29, 2006
  8. ^ A.V. et al. v. iParadigms, LLC, 562 F.3d 630 (4th Cir. 2009)
  9. ^ Carbone, Nick (2001). "Turnitin.com, a Pedagogic Placebo for Plagiarism". Retrieved 2007-01-28. [dead link]
  10. ^ WriteCheck.com
  11. ^ Murphy, Elizabeth (2011-09-09). "Plagiarism software WriteCheck troubles some educators". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-10-15. 
  12. ^ "McGill student wins fight over anti-cheating website". CBC News. 2004-01-16. Archived from the original on 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  13. ^ Churchill, Liam (2005-12-02). "Students: 2, Turnitin: 0". McGill Daily. Archived from the original on 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  14. ^ "Minutes of Meeting". Mount Saint Vincent University Senate. 2006-03-06. Retrieved 2009-03-20. [dead link]
  15. ^ Amarnath, Ravi (2006-03-15). "Mount St. Vincent bans Turnitin.com". The Gazette. Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
  16. ^ Osellame, Julia (2006-04-04). "University opts not to 'Turnitin'". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  17. ^ "Turnitin.com Information for Students". Ryerson University. 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  18. ^ Vanderhye, R. (2007-04-16). "A.V., et. al. v. iParadigms, LLC: Amended Complaint for Copyright Infringement" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  19. ^ Hilton, Claude (2008). "Memorandum Opinion". United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. 
  20. ^ Barakat, Matthew (2008-04-28). "Students appeal ruling favoring plagiarism detection service". Boston.com. Archived from the original on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2008-04-29. 
  21. ^ Wilkinson, Motz, Traxler (2009-04-16). "Appellate Decision" (PDF). United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

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