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Use of Originality Checking Software by Faculty under Federal Law

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) controls the University's disclosure of students' education records. These records include student work product such as term papers.

UMBC has a campus-wide license to use plagiarism detection software SafeAssign through the BlackBoard Learning System, through which student work product may be checked for originality. However, use of theis service must comport with FERPA regulations and Family Policy Compliance Office guidance.

Should faculty have any questions regarding the use of this service, or other similar services, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

Specific Requirements to comply with FERPA

Specifically, to be compliant with FERPA in the use of SafeAssign:

  1. Students themselves can submit the papers directly to SafeAssign. Since the faculty/University is not submitting the paper to SafeAssign, the student's work does not come under the auspices of FERPA. Faculty may require students to submit their work to SafeAssign and should list this expectation in their course syllabus.
  2. Faculty can legally submit student work product. Permission from the student is not required. However, submission of the work product can occur only after first removing all personally identifiable information (defined as information that is easily traceable to a particular student, such as including name or a description that could lead others to identify the student). Eliminating the personally identifiable information removes FERPA issues.

    Faculty may utilize any reasonable coding system they develop to be able to identify the student author of the paper, so long as the coding system does not convey the identity of the student (such as student's initials) or contain established identifiers such as Social Security Numbers or Campus issued Student ID numbers.

  3. If a highly similar work is identified by the software/service and the referred instructor is not affiliated with UMBC, UMBC faculty cannot use personally identifiable information about the UMBC student when discussing any student work product with the referred instructor not appointed/employed by UMBC.
  4. We advise that faculty inform their students if the SafeAssign software is going to be utilized. This notice should be in writing, preferably in the course syllabus.

Additional Information

The U.S. Department of Education's Family Policy Compliance Office's (FPCO) specific postion on the interplay and legality of FERPA and the use of plagiarism detection and prevention software can be found in the Letter to: Parker, November 13, 2007 guidance letter. The letter addresses Turnitin.com, another plagiarism detection and prevention software, but is applicable to the use of SafeAssign.

Use of the Turnitin.com service was determined not to infringe U.S. copyright laws by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in the March 2008 decision A.V., et al v. iParadigms, LLC, subsequently upheld by the Fourth Circuit of the States Court of Appeals. The guidance issued by the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals rulings are both applicable in principle to the use of SafeAssign.

More information on FERPA in general can be found on the U.S. Department of Education website: http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html