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Intellectual Property-Related Motion at the CCCC Business Meeting

As is always the case, on the last day of this year’s annual Conference on College Composition and Communication a business meeting was held at which various motions are voted upon. The Intellectual Property Committee, with input from the Intellectual Property Caucus, has been discussing the issue of plagiarism detection services (PDSs) and this year introduced a motion on the subject. This motion addressed several concerns about PDSs, including questions about whether such services threaten the rights of students to their own intellectual property. This concern arises from the fact that such services typically create databases out of papers submitted by students. A student, by uploading a paper to a PDS, may be ceding control over his or her intellectual property, which is then used for the financial benefit of a for-profit entity.

The issue of the intellectual property rights of students was not, however, the only one addressed by the motion. The Intellectual Property Committee and the Caucus was also concerned about the effects such services have on students’ sense of agency, on the learning environment, and on the role of the educator in addressing students’ use of sources. The motion not only articulated those concerns but also advocated educators “intervene and combat the potential negative influences” of PDSs, either by seeking alternatives to such services or, if utilizing them, by doing so according to best practices.

After discussion, the motion was passed as introduced. The full text of the motion is below.

WHEREAS CCCC does not endorse the use of plagiarism detection services;

WHEREAS plagiarism detection services can compromise academic integrity by potentially undermining students’ agency as writers, treating all students as always already plagiarists, creating a hostile learning environment, shifting the responsibility of identifying and interpreting source misuse from teachers to technology, and compelling students to agree to licensing agreements that threaten their privacy and rights to their own intellectual property;

WHEREAS plagiarism detection services potentially negatively change the role of the writing teacher; construct ill-conceived notions of originality and writing; disavow the complexities of writing in and with networked, digital technologies; and treat students as non-writers;

WHEREAS composition teacher-scholars can intervene and combat the potential negative influences of PDSs by educating colleagues about the realities of plagiarism and the troubling outcomes of using PDSs; advocating actively against the adoption of such services; modeling and sharing ideas for productive writing pedagogy; and conducting research into alternative pedagogical strategies to address plagiarism, including honor codes and process pedagogy;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Conference on College Composition and Communication commends institutions that offer sound pedagogical alternatives to PDS; encourages institutions that use PDS to implement practices in the best interests of their students, including notifying students at the beginning of the term that the service will be used, providing students with a non-coercive and convenient opt out process, and inviting students to submit drafts to the service before turning in final text.

For related articles on the issue of Plagiarism Detection Services, see these earlier IP Reports: Michael J. Klein’s “IP Caucus Roundtable: Students’ Rights to Their Writing and to the Writing of Others” and Kim Gainer’s “Plagiarism Detection Services: Unsettled Questions.” See also Traci A. Zimmerman’s “McClean Students File Suit against Turnitin.com: Useful Tool or Instrument of Tyranny?” in Top Intellectual Property Developments of 2007 for Scholars of Composition, Rhetoric, and Communication and Wendy Warren Austin’s “Virginia High School Students Rebel against Mandatory Use of Turnitin.com” in Major Intellectual Property Developments of 2006 for Scholars of Composition, Rhetoric, and Communication.

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