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Turnitin is an Internet-based plagiarism-prevention commercial 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]

Type of site
Online SaaS editor

2101 Webster Street (Suite #1800)

Oakland, California 94612, United States
Area served Worldwide
Industry Education
Commercial Yes
Registration Yes
Users 30M+ students (15,000 institutions)
Content licence

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 this proprietary software violates educational privacy as well as international intellectual property laws, and exploits students' works for commercial purposes by permanently storing them in Turnitin's private database.

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 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 databaseEdit

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 content to Turnitin's archive. It also contains commercial and/or copyrighted pages from books, newspapers, journals, etc.

Classroom integrationEdit

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 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 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.[4] Mount Saint Vincent University became the first Canadian university to ban Turnitin's service partly because of implications of the USA PATRIOT Act.[5][full citation needed]

Concerns about violation of student copyright in the United StatesEdit

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.[6]

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[7]

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.[8]

Presumption of guiltEdit

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.[9][full citation needed]


iParadigms, the company behind Turnitin, runs another commercial website called WriteCheck, where students must pay a fee to have a paper tested against the database used by Turnitin, in order to determine whether or not that paper will be detected as plagiarism when the student submit that paper to the main Turnitin website through the account provided by the school. Alex Tabarrok complained that "They are warlords who are arming both sides in this plagiarism war".[10]


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.[11] In 2005 another McGill student, Denise Brunsdon, refused to submit her assignment to and won a similar ruling from the Senate Committee on Student Grievances.[12] 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 and any software that requires students' work to become part of an external database where other parties might have access to it.[13] This decision was granted after the students' union alerted the university community of their legal and privacy concerns associated with the use of and other anti-plagiarism devices that profit from students' academic work. This was the first campus-wide ban of its kind in Canada,[14] following decisions by Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Stanford in the US not to use Turnitin.[15]

At Ryerson University (Toronto), students may decide whether to submit their work to or make alternate arrangements with the instructor.[16] Similar policies are in place at Brock University (Saint Catharines).[17]

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.[18] Nearly a year later, Judge Claude M. Hilton granted summary judgment on the students' complaint in favor of iParadigms/Turnitin,[19] because they had accepted the click-wrap agreement on the Turnitin website. The students appealed the ruling,[20] 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.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Christopher Ireland; John English (October 2011). "Let Them Plagiarise: Developing Academic Writing in a Safe Environment (PDF Download Available)". ResearchGate. doi:10.18552/joaw.v1i1.10. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Turnitin Integrations". iParadigms, LLC. 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  4. ^ McDiarmid, Jess (2006-03-16). "DSU takes on". Gazette. Dalhousie University. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  5. ^ Halfnight, Drew; Kristina Jarvis; Josh Visser (2006-11-15). "Turnitin risks privacy". Excalibur Online. York University. Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  6. ^ Foster, Andrea L.; May 17, 2002; Plagiarism-Detection Tool Creates Legal Quandary; The Chronicle of Higher Education; retrieved September 29, 2006
  7. ^ A.V. et al. v. iParadigms, LLC, 562 F.3d 630 (4th Cir. 2009)
  8. ^ Carbone, Nick (2001). ", a Pedagogic Placebo for Plagiarism". Archived from the original on October 4, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-28. 
  9. ^ Murphy, Elizabeth (2011-09-09). "Plagiarism software WriteCheck troubles some educators". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-10-15. 
  10. ^ "McGill student wins fight over anti-cheating website". CBC News. 2004-01-16. Archived from the original on March 6, 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  11. ^ Churchill, Liam (2005-12-02). "Students: 2, Turnitin: 0". McGill Daily. Archived from the original on 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  12. ^ "Minutes of Meeting" (PDF). Mount Saint Vincent University Senate. 2006-03-06. Retrieved 2009-03-20. [dead link]
  13. ^ Amarnath, Ravi (2006-03-15). "Mount St. Vincent bans". The Gazette. Retrieved 2011-11-28. [permanent dead link]
  14. ^ Osellame, Julia (2006-04-04). "University opts not to 'Turnitin'". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  15. ^ " Information for Students". Ryerson University. 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  16. ^ "Brock Academic Integrity Policy". Brock University. 2013-10-03. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  17. ^ Vanderhye, R. (2007-04-16). "A.V., et. al. v. iParadigms, LLC: Amended Complaint for Copyright Infringement" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  18. ^ Hilton, Claude (2008). "Memorandum Opinion" (PDF). United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-05. 
  19. ^ Barakat, Matthew (2008-04-28). "Students appeal ruling favoring plagiarism detection service". Archived from the original on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2008-04-29. 
  20. ^ Wilkinson, Motz, Traxler (2009-04-16). "Appellate Decision" (PDF). United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

External linksEdit