High school students are suing electronic anti-cheating services for copyright infringement. Anti-cheating services work by archiving every student paper turned into it; when a professor submits his students’ papers, the service will determine whether any of them are plagarised.
The students complain not because they were caught, but because their work was archived and controlled by the website without their permission. They received copyright registrations for their papers before turning them into their teachers, expressly requested that they not be archived, and brought suit when their wishes were not regarded.
There are “fair use” exceptions to copyright law. The factors used in determining whether an infringing use is fair or not are:
- commercial or non-profit nature of the use;
- percent of the work that is used;
- the nature of the copyrighted work; and
- the effect of the use on the marketability of the copyrighted work.
The McLean students win, very clearly, on the first two factors: these services make excellent money by commandeering the works of their students and, by their nature, archive and use all of the work. This is not akin to a person who quotes part of an article or one line of a song. Generally, permission must be given before using part of a copyrighted work; as the students explicitly forbid using their work, the anti-cheating services will have a tough battle.
Fair use generally allows someone to critique a work, mention it, or satarise it; they are not allowed to use it for commercial gain. It is odd to think that a company could become wealthy by violating the intellectual property of high school students, but it has happened. High schoolers are usually not sympathetic plaintiffs, but those who write outstanding, original papers should retain the rights to them. Copyright law contains no escape clause for those who claim to be performing a public service; the social utility of anti-plagarism websites is irrelevant to the massive amount of copyright infringement.