Campus Life

More College Knowledge Q&As

Question: A friend of one of my classmates got into big trouble for using someone else's writing in one of his assignments. Why is this such a big deal?

Answer: The unauthorized use of other people's work is heavily frowned upon in schools, especially in college. The problem has gotten worse due to the vast amount of information available on the Internet. It's getting harder to prove plagiarism. The penalties are getting more severe, though.

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that students at Middlebury College who plagiarize face having the offense recorded on their transcript. Here's how MIddlebury defines plagiarism:

Plagiarism is a violation of intellectual honesty. Plagiarism is passing off another person's work as one's own. It is taking and presenting as one's own the ideas, research, writings, creations, or inventions of another. It makes no difference whether the source is a student or a professional in some field. For example, in written work, whenever as much as a sentence or key phrase is taken from the work of another without specific citation of the source, the issue of plagiarism arises.

Paraphrasing is the close restatement of another's idea using approximately the language of the original. Paraphrasing without acknowledgment of authorship is also plagiarism and is as serious a violation as an unacknowledged quotation.

Until changing its policy, the college punished plagiarizers by denying them credit for the work that was copied. In some cases, students were suspended, but their academic records did not indicate that they had plagiarized.

A number of high-tech software programs have emerged that claim to be able to spot material that is copied from Web sources. One company, iParadigms, markets a program called Turnitin. Just over a year ago, a Federal judge ruled that Turnitin does tot violate students' copyrights. Some details on this ruling from Jeffery Young's Chronicle story:

A federal judge ruled this month that a commercial plagiarism-detection tool popular among professors does not violate the copyright of students, even though it stores digital copies of their essays in the database that the company uses to check works for academic dishonesty. The decision also has wider implications for other digital services, such as Google's effort to scan books in major libraries and add them to its index for search purposes.

The lawyer for the students who sued the company said he plans to appeal . . .

. . . The case has been closely watched by the thousands of colleges who use the plagiarism-detection tool, called Turnitin, as well as by opponents of the service who hope to prevent professors from becoming anticheating police.

Last March four high-school students—two in Virginia and two in Arizona—sued iParadigms, the company that runs Turnitin, arguing that the company took their papers against their will and profited from using them. The students' high schools required papers to be checked for plagiarism using Turnitin, and the service automatically adds scanned papers to its database. The company boasts about the size of its database as a selling point, and colleges pay thousands of dollars per year to use it. The students sought $900,000 as compensation for six papers they had submitted . . .

. . . The decision could bode well for Google. The company has been sued by groups representing publishers and authors who argue that the company is violating their copyrights by digitizing their books without express permission. Google contends that, because its digital copies are for the purpose of providing an index, it is essentially transforming the material.

What's the bottom line here for high schoolers and college students? Well, duh: Do your own original work!

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