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Professors fight back in war on plagiarism

By Rachael Myer
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 5, 1999
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To those who thought the Internet was their ally when under pressure late at night - tired and desperately seeking for a way out of writing a term paper due at 9 a.m. - beware.

The World Wide Web, which some students use to buy or download term papers and use for their own academic credit, can now be an enemy.

A year-and-a half-old Web site, www.plagiarism.org, allows professors to verify if their students actually wrote their term papers, or plagiarized the assignment.

"What we are trying to do is level the playing field for honest students," said John Barrie, the co-creator of plagiarism.org and the president of Paradigms Inc., the company that operates the Web site.

Plagiarism.org checks thousands of papers each month for a "level of originality," Barrie said. He said about 20 to 30 percent of the papers checked through the Web site are found to be not completely original.

The verifying process begins when students uploaded a copy of their paper to the Internet so plagiarism.org can match the assignment with the term papers in their database. The database contains at least 50,000 papers from Internet sites that provide free term papers.

A report is generated, with sentences underlined and color-coded that are determined to be unoriginal. The color codes match the closest five manuscripts that information could have been taken from. If eight words match the other sources, the phrase is considered "unoriginal."

The report takes about two to three days to be completed and is confidential to the person or licensee who uploaded the paper.

"It's next to impossible to escape that level of detection," Barrie said.

Veda Hunn, the University of Arizona assistant dean of students, said she had not heard of the Web site and its details, but said it sounded like another way for professors to check if their students are plagiarizing.

"You want to protect the integrity of your institution," Hunn said.

Barrie said he predicts Internet sites that sell or provide free term papers will be put out of business because of his Web site.

The service is free for the first five times, or $20 for 30 papers and 50 cents for each paper after for individual classes. Universities can contract with the company for $1 per paper.

Barrie, who is a University of California at Berkeley neural biology doctoral student, is negotiating a contract with the University of California Board of Regents to provide Cal-Berkeley professors the opportunity to use the Web site for their classes.

Doug Zuidema, the assistant director of student activities and services/student conduct at Berkeley, estimated that his office has received about 12 cases of students pawning off Internet term papers as their own since last semester.

Zuidema said plagiarism.org will help professors follow through with academic integrity discipline cases.

Many other institutions, including some in foreign countries, are already using the Web site.

University of California at Davis office of academic integrity, two universities in Australia, one in Poland and a high school in Canada are using the service as well as individual instructors from various institutions.

Christopher Maloney, head of the UA Philosophy Department, said plagiarism "appears" to be on the rise because of the Internet.

"I would welcome a reliable service that would efficiently give evidence that a paper is or is not plagiarism," Maloney said. Almost all of the philosophy classes require students to write papers.

He added that such a service must not incorrectly detect plagiarism.

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