Getting Caught Remixing, Getting Caught Red-Handed

Far from neutral technologies with no inherent value systems of their own, these spaces clearly articulate right and wrong, masters and servants. By pitting writing and research along moral and ethical lines, these services reflect a larger cultural ideology wherein appropriate work is original, obviating the extensive research that has been done to champion remixed and sampled communication not as unoriginal but rather as highly creative work that, done well, has its own intellectual gravitas (see Johnson-Eilola & Selber, 2007; DeVoss & Webb, 2008; Ridolfo & DeVoss, 2009). To make matters more confusing, Turnitin has appropriated the terms remix and mashup in its recent white paper, "The Plagiarism Spectrum: Instructor Insights into the 10 Types of Plagiarism":

It is laudable that iParadigms is attempting to complicate definitions of plagiarism and highlight the differences in severity and intent involved. However, remix and mashup has been articulated by Jim Ridolfo and Danielle Nicole DeVoss (2009) not as paraphrasing and copying without proper citation, but as a strategic process of composing with particular attention to rhetorical delivery. James E. Porter and DeVoss (2006) argue that in fact, remix requires plagiarism in some sense; as an innovative composing process that depends upon others' work, it should be looked upon as a new literacy skill (p. 1). As new composing processes disrupt and challenge old ways of thinking, we may need to redefine our terms and reassess previous understandings, or as Marsh (2007) aptly asks us to consider, "Does Internet plagiarism in the age of post-media composition represent one of many laudable literacies students with a new ‘communication ability’ bring to the classroom?" (p. 154). This work challenges us to re-evaluate the role of remix and mashup practices in light of current conceptions of authorship. Yet iParadigm's appropriation and redefinition of these terms as text-based, citation-laden, and plagiaristic attempts to erase their work and reseat remix and mashup firmly in the camp of inappropriate authorial behavior.

Equally as concerning is the fact that Turnitin's Originality Checker does not rely on any subtle distinctions like these when presenting its color-coded originality report. In other words, while Turnitin's white paper here differentiates between "cloned" work (where an author turns in a paper that is entirely word-for-word plagiarized) and something like poor paraphrasing (labeled here as a "re-tweet"), the Originality Checker does not; despite the distinctions of the white paper, the technology is coded in such a way that these distinctions ultimately don't matter.

Overall, Turnitin's choice of terminology is confusing at best—why, for example, is faulty paraphrasing called "re-tweet plagiarism," a term that seems more aligned with a popular technology (Twitter) than with the actual composing issue? Similarly, why are the terms "remix" and "mashup" used here in connection with plagiarism when many forms of remix composition are considered transformative (and not plagiarism) under Fair Use guidelines? Finally, if wants to help instructors and students differentiate among different types of plagiarism, including understanding intent and severity, why doesn't its Originality Checker program work toward that goal?

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