Numerous articles have been published within writing studies that are highly critical of plagiarism detection services (PDS), but their use remains prevalent both within and beyond the field. As Clancy Ratliff (2018) observed, "plagiarism is considered to be such a shocking transgression, [but] many teachers have embraced PDS in the service of justice: these platforms serve as sheriff (of sorts), keeping everyone honest" (p. 151). We often wonder if some whom we interact with, both within and outside of writing studies, interpret critiques of PDS platforms as an abstract form of technological moralism: "What kind of topsy-turvy ethics is this? I'm a good instructor upholding academic integrity! My own IP transgressions pale in comparison to those the plagiarists have made!" Yet, the aim of these disciplinary efforts has been to raise awareness of the ways these platforms are rooted in an asymmetrical economy that is not only unethical and pedagogically unsound (e.g., Morris & Stommel, 2017; Price, 2002; Purdy, 2005; Vie, 2013), but also problematic and unsustainable from an exchange perspective.
|Users||Students; graduate teaching assistants; instructors; faculty; programmatic, department, and institutional administrators; academic support staff; information technology staff; platform employees and staff|
|Permissions||Instructors or programmatic, department,
and/or institutional administrators purchase
licenses to the platform and compel students to
upload papers to platform as condition of
participation in courses.
Student or instructors upload papers to PDS.
Policies such as end-user license agreements (EULAs), as well as platform-specific copyright and privacy policies, govern use.
|Inputs||Student assignments, theses, dissertations, faculty articles, student names, dates, course, institution, number of citations, assignment type/genre, professor, style, lexicon, IP address, interactivity/behavior within platform, time spent logged in/active within platform, file metadata, geolocation, browser, computer.|
|Operations||Spiders or indexing tools crawl textual, web (e.g., Wikipedia), and database (e.g., Proquest) content, creating unique and/or comparable co-locations. Comparative analysis identifies n-grams when a segment of text resembles content previously indexed by the repository.|
|Outputs|| Originality reports, phrases or sentences
flagged within a document for further review, or
tutorials that explain how a student might
address or improve originality of a statement
(e.g., a sentence flagged as unoriginal
paraphrase [patchwriting] initiates a tutorial
that explains strategies the student might use
to improve the quality of the paraphrase).
Proprietary database of academic writing.
Proprietary algorithms trained using database.
|Gateways|| Institutions or individuals pay fee or
license use of platform services.
Students, instructors, and administrators gain ability to compare new inputs to a local or proprietary database of writing, including differential access to individual, course, and institutional reports and platform analytics insights.
Access to original inputs not provided to institutions, instructors, or students.
Consequently, we wonder if students, educators, administrators, universities, and disciplines (and, perhaps, even platforms themselves) have underappreciated the innovative potentials that are wrapped up with having access, especially exclusive forms of access, to a rich supply chain of student IP—content, data, and metadata— that is generated within schools and university. Granting platforms these levels of access to student IP inputs, then, creates opportunities for downstream parties to make derivative works and products, which Turnitin has done from its reenvisioning what might be done with such a vast and proprietary collection of student papers. Just as proponents of open access have turned toward interrogating and critically thinking about what it means for scholars to publish in journals and books cordoned off behind pay-per-view paywalls, we, too, must begin to consider what it means for us to participate in systems where we grant third parties access to student IP, because these platforms might make use of inputs in ways that may not align with the pedagogical and social outcomes that educators, colleges and universities, and disciplines are working toward.