Paradigms of Plagiarism: Fair Use and Plagiarism Detection Software in A.V. ex rel. Vanderhye v. iParadigms, LLC

BY Laura A. Dickson

Multiple surveys taken over the past four years indicate that a large portion of undergraduate students at America’s colleges and universities admit to cheating on a college exam or assignment. In fact, in one survey, over fifty percent of college students confessed to having plagiarized from the Internet. As information has become easier to access, students are increasingly tempted to plagiarize content from online sources. More troubling, many students who use the Internet to conduct research are unable to define plagiarism.

Plagiarism has been described as an epidemic plaguing the nation, but it is not a novel concept. Despite plagiarism’s historical presence, it is a real problem in academic institutions that threatens, not only the original work of those who are victimized by this type of intellectual thievery, but also jeopardizes the continued intellectual growth of society. Teachers have begun to describe plagiarism as a form of “intellectual rape,” and some journalists have even opined that the standards of education universally have been “dumb[ed] down” because of this pestilence.

In order to combat the rise of plagiarism in academic institutions, software companies have created novel and effective programs designed to detect and deter plagiarism. An estimated fifty-five percent of colleges and universities use some type of anti-plagiarism software. With the increased use of these advanced software programs, which can identify portions of a student’s work that are similar to other works in the programs’ massive and ever-growing document databases, Zack Morris tactics can no longer go on undetected.

As could be expected, the burgeoning market for plagiarism detection software has been accompanied by litigation challenging the use of such programs. In the recent case, A.V. ex rel. Vanderhye v. iParadigms, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that iParadigms, LLC (“iParadigms”), a company specializing in plagiarism detection software, was not liable for infringing on the copyrights of four students when its software, Turnitin Plagiarism Detection Service (“Turnitin”), archived digital copies of the students’ works in its database. The court held that iParadigms’ use of the student works qualified as fair use.

This Recent Development explores the Fourth Circuit’s fair use analysis and argues that its decision was, not only the correct application of the law, but also aligns with both the legislative purpose of fair use and the underlying constitutional purpose of copyright law. In Part I, this Recent Development examines the fair use exception within the historical and constitutional context of copyright law. Part II briefly describes how Turnitin detects and deters plagiarism and provides a summary of the facts of A.V. ex rel. Vanderhye. Part III argues that the Fourth Circuit properly affirmed the district court’s decision by performing a valid fair use statutory analysis but that the panel missed an opportunity to strengthen its argument by failing to interpret the factors in light of the purpose of copyright. Part III further contends that a finding of fair use comported with the constitutional purpose of copyright law because iParadigms’ use contributes to the “Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

DOWNLOAD PDF | 89 N.C. L. Rev.Addendum 29 (2011)