The responder was Stephen Sharon via Twitter, he’s written a paper around some of the legal concerns over turnitin and he sent me the link. It’s good reading and confirms some of the things I had heard surrounding the site. I’d encourage everyone reading this to click through and read Stephen’s paper (it’s 38 pages, but double spaced and with much of each page containing references).
I’m not qualified to give legal comment on tunitin (I’m an Engineer not a Lawyer), but I will give my opinion. Before I do I’d like to give the following disclaimer (in true Software Freedom Law Show style):
WARNING: The following DOES NOT (in any way, shape or form) constitute legal advice, it is only my own (perhaps misguided) opinion. I would urge anyone who has any concerns over how their data may have been used by Turnitin to contact someone who actually knows what they a talking about, in this case A LAWYER!
Basically, I think Turnitin is on pretty shaky legal ground both in terms of Copyright and Privacy (certainly under US law). Here in New Zealand we have different privacy laws, but I’m sure they probably say much the same thing. The copyright issues are also concerning, I don’t want to turn over my rights to Turnitin just so I can submit my paper. What if my assignment gave technical details of an invention which I may in future have some financial interest in. Turnitin would have the right to use that information as they see fit.
Realistically I think it’s only a matter of time before Turnitin is taken to court again to face a hard examination of their user agreement, etc. This whole thing brings me back onto the subject of Free Software. I think it really is important for these tools which have such important uses to be Free (as in speech), it would be great to see a Free Network Service replace Turnitin as the dominant player in this market. I would much rather trust that to be transparent and honest than a company driven by profit and market share.
Anyway that’s just my $0.02. Before I finish I’ll encourage you all again to read Stephen’s paper.