Student Sues Term Paper Website (and its Host)

Macellari v. Carroll, no. 4:05-CV-04161-JPG (S.D. Ill. complaint filed Aug. 31, 2005).

Blue Macellari, a student at Duke and Johns Hopkins, has sued a term paper vendor (Rusty Carroll/R2C2, Inc.) operating three websites (doingmyhomework.com, freeforessays.com and freefortermpapers.com) for copyright infringement, a Lanham Act violation, defamation, privacy invasion and unfair trade practices. The lawsuit also names the web host Digitalsmiths.

I’m not sure what the Lanham Act violation could be, and the defamation claim seems a little tough. The copyright infringement claim, however, seems potent. If, in fact, the term paper vendor didn’t have permission, it doesn’t have a lot of great defenses. I’m less clear about the web host’s liability–did Blue send a 512(c)(3) notice? If not, the theory is that they shouldn’t be liable, although a number of courts have bypassed that requirement.

Depending on the outcome, this case could create some real issues for Turnitin and similar services. I’ve never been fully clear that a court was going to bless their use of student papers for commercial benefit, and this lawsuit might expose weaknesses in their legal posture.

Another interesting angle: Blue’s lawyers are doing this pro bono.

Coverage: Lawyer’s press release, Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required), Inside Higher Education, AP story

UPDATE: A copy of the complaint (thanks to John O for pulling it from PACER)

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