Websites that allow students to access completed essays and papers are currently under legal attack, with several lawsuits underway against prominent distributors.
Commonly called “paper mills,” the sites provide written pieces for download, often without permission from their authors. Use of these sites is considered plagiarism at the University of Wisconsin.
Chad Weidner, an English professor at Roosevelt Academy in the Netherlands, and his affiliate Karolien Walravens are currently involved in a lawsuit against paper distributer R2C2 Inc. and owner Rusty Carroll.
The suit was filed in 2006 when R2C2 Inc. was found to be distributing term papers online without permission, bringing into question the use of technology in “borrowing others work.”
Weidner said in and e-mail to The Badger Herald he ideally hopes for a chilling effect on the term paper business as the case progresses.
Weidner, a victim of the online paper distributor when they gave out his paper without his permission, emphasized the importance of scholarly research.
“I think it is important to teach students that there are no shortcuts, and that real research is both time consuming and difficult,” Weidner said in the e-mail. “To think that there is some kind of quick fix, be it a paper sold online, a paper borrowed from a peer or creative rewriting of an academic’s work is just unacceptable.”
Copyright infringement is also a common method of plagiarism. According to the UW System legal counsel, copyright law, “copyrights protect original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.”
“It is not so different from selling pirated DVDs or CDs,” Weidner said. “The financial threshold might be lower than the latest blockbuster film, but the ethical dimension is perhaps even greater.”
Robert Dreschel, a professor of journalism and mass communication at UW, finds this practice to be “fundamentally a form of cheating” when applied to assignments.
He added while it may not strictly be plagiarism, acquiring papers from another source and using them at a school or university is a violation of academic integrity.
“If you plagiarize something and the material is copyrighted, you could be sued for copyright infringement,” Dreschel said.
The increase in students’ access to technology is also a factor for accessing plagiarized material. Dreschel said technology makes it easier than ever for people to find materials.
“One way to look at plagiarism is [if] you pass somebody’s [work] off as your own without their knowledge, but these [paper mill] websites bill themselves as helping you do research,” Dreschel said.
Weidner said he finds the Internet is more at fault for inhibiting students’ motivation for individual research and writing.
“Universities will need to find ways to reinvent assignments so that students are inspired to do original work,” Weidner said. “At the same time, the legal system needs to catch up, as is the case with so many modern developments.”