Australian regulator signals doubts about Turnitin-Ouriginal deal

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The Australian competition watchdog has signaled “concern” about Turnitin’s acquisition of one of its two main local competitors, warning that the deal could lead to higher prices and reduced services.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says the California-based plagiarism detection giant’s acquisition of Stockholm-based Ouriginal could put universities and colleges at a disadvantage “by removing one of their only restraints of competition in Australia.”

In a “problem statement” with the “preliminary view” of the ACCC, the regulatory authority said the proposal could reduce innovation worldwide by relieving Turnitin of the pressure of a “particularly innovative” competitor.

ACCC Commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said Turnitin is by far the largest provider of anti-plagiarism software to Australian universities, and Ouriginal has “far fewer” local customers. “However, it is one of Turnitin’s only competitors in higher education and it could become a major competitive pressure,” he said.

“We are focused on whether Turnitin is buying up its most promising competitive threat to protect its market position. Some stakeholders have suggested that Ouriginal is cheaper and possibly has a more innovative product. “

ACCC is one of many regulators considering the proposed acquisition. It intends to announce its final position on November 18th.

While it cannot prevent the deal from happening, it can take action against companies operating in Australia that violate the Competition and Consumer Act. Section 50 of the Act prohibits acquisitions that are capable of significantly restricting competition in any market.

Stakeholders have until September 27 to submit their comments on Ouriginal’s ability to innovate and the likelihood that other competitors will fill this role if Turnitin takes over.

The ACCC also wants feedback on other existing and potential vendors of anti-plagiarism software and the difficulties new vendors have in entering the market.

The regulator identified competitors from overseas including Copyleaks, Copy Killer, StrikePlagiarism, Viper and Proctorio, but said it was not clear they intended to expand into Australia. And although Google and Microsoft had introduced anti-plagiarism features into their products, there was no evidence that the two tech giants planned to break into the “relatively niche” college market.

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