Internet Plagiarism

Student Model Print

Dan writes a problem-solution essay that focuses on one of the great temptations of the digital age: stealing intellectual property via the Internet. The essay begins by explaining the problem in detail and then shifts to recommending a set of solutions.

Internet Plagiarism

Not all thieves lurk in dark alleys and parks. Some sit with their faces lit by the glow of their computer monitors, copying, pasting, and printing.

It may seem like just another helpful source of information, but the Internet has taken the theft of “intellectual property” to a new level. Part of the problem is that most students don’t really know the exact definition of plagiarism or its consequences. Some say that using someone else’s ideas without attributing them is a form of theft, but most people don’t think of it as a serious crime.

For teachers, Internet plagiarism has been especially problematic compared to “theft” from other sources. This is because it is so difficult to locate the origin of Internet material. To counter student plagiarism, Internet services designed to detect copied material have emerged to aid teachers. One company, TurnItIn.com, has developed a system for detecting material plagiarized from the Internet. Teachers can upload student works onto the site, which searches for similarities to material from all over the Web. The teachers then receive an “originality report.” To utilize this technology, teachers have students submit all papers electronically.

“The threat of using [these programs] will stop a lot of students. They will be afraid they’ll be caught. Unfortunately, fear is what works,” English teacher Judy Grear said.

English teacher Barbara Swovelin said, “With all the info that’s on the Internet, it’s understandable that we go to it to get information. It’s understandable that people would use it as a resource. The legal and moral issues come in when students use it improperly.”

A main concern is not only the use of a few plagiarized sentences, but of entire papers. “Paper mills” like SchoolSucks.com and Evil House of Cheat are some of the most popular sources for pirated papers. Sites like these, which have achieved fame and notoriety among slackers everywhere, were the motivation for TurnItIn.com and similar sites.

In addition to such blatant “cut and paste” plagiarism, most teachers agree that students must be wary of the theft of ideas. One plagiarism-detection program, Word Check, asserts through their Web site, “Whether you agree or disagree on how information should be used or reused in digital form, one thing is clear: protecting intellectual property from theft and infringement is the number one security issue.”

By some definitions, it seems like everyone plagiarizes. But for many students who feel that they might unknowingly plagiarize, programs like TurnItIn.com are intimidating. The detection system on TurnItIn.com, which is a part of plagiarism.org, claims to detect plagiarism down to the eight-word level, which many fear could include accidental lifting of words.

“You might lift an idea or a line or two. Everybody does that. Some writers don’t read other writers because of it,” Grear said.

Swovelin responds positively to the new technology that detection programs use. “What we would try to produce would be students who would be ethical. People learn lessons when they do something wrong,” she said about the program.

“I think that the idea is good,” Chris M., a senior, said. “But it might be a little extreme because some phrases are common enough that they might be in more than one essay.”

The thieves are out there, and they aren’t wearing stocking caps. They’re not robbing banks; they’re stealing words.

© 2016 Thoughtful Learning. Copying is permitted.

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