UK regulator probes Turnitin-Ouriginal deal

Academics fear California-based company is gaining monopoly on plagiarism detection services

June 13, 2021
Big fish chases small fish
Source: iStock

The UK’s competition regulator is to investigate Turnitin’s proposal to buy out its last major rival in global academic integrity services.

The Competition and Markets Authority said that it was considering whether Turnitin’s planned acquisition of Ouriginal “may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition” in the UK.

When it announced the deal earlier this year, California-based Turnitin said that it was “subject to regulatory approvals”.

Stockholm-based Ouriginal was itself formed just last September from the union of European text-matching services Urkund and PlagScan.

If approved, the acquisition would be the latest in a long line for Turnitin, which provides plagiarism checking services to universities around the world. It bought the Ukrainian plagiarism detection company Unicheck last June and absorbed Indianapolis-based competitor VeriCite in early 2018. Turnitin also snapped up online proctoring platform ProctorExam in February, assessment platforms Gradescope and ExamSoft in 2018 and 2020, and automated tutoring support company LightSide Labs in 2014.

Some academics have raised concerns that the latest deal could hand Turnitin a near monopoly and could reduce product diversity while handing the company a treasure trove of data.

Canadian business analyst Justin Menard estimated that the purchase of Ouriginal would hand Turnitin some 97 per cent of the plagiarism detection market in Asia, 96 per cent in Africa, 88 per cent in Europe, 86 per cent in Oceania, 83 per cent in the Middle East, 77 per cent in Latin America and 67 per cent in North America.

Concern about Turnitin’s growth have focused on the amount of intellectual property it has accumulated in the essays that its software collects and checks, particularly after US media giant Advance Publications bought it for more than $1.7 billion (£1.2 billion) in 2019.

The company has insisted that it observes intellectual property standards and processes, and that universities and academics were free to choose whether submitted work was indexed in its database.

Following the CMA announcement, a Turnitin spokeswoman said that the company “cannot comment further on an ongoing regulatory process”.

“Subsequent to successful completion of the review, Turnitin looks forward to working together with Ouriginal to deliver even stronger assessment and integrity solutions to help students do their best, original work,” the spokeswoman said.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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