Paper Trail

The Cat-and-Mouse of the Game of Online Plagiarism president Kenny Sahr fends off allegations of assisted cheating by insisting that the U.S. school system is in shambles and that the Web site is doing students a service by giving them resources their teachers are neglecting to provide in the classroom. "First, if we wanted students to plagiarize, we would rate the papers," Sahr explains on the Web site. "For the most part, they're nothing to brag about."

Legally, online term paper mills have yet to be quashed by academia. In December, a federal court dismissed a 1997 suit against five companies— originally eight— accused by Boston University of engaging in a "patently immoral and illegal business" that would help students obtain degrees through false means. The university requested that the court order the companies to quit selling and distributing term papers throughout Massachusetts. But the judge who dismissed the case ruled that the companies did little actual damage and the suit itself was based upon misapplied state and federal laws.

Yet for all the wrangling over online plagiarism, ultimately it will be users, not educators, who determine— either from the grades they receive or an ethical awakening— whether to shelve term paper mills as second-string resource sites. The choice will be tough, since for some students the issue is not necessarily cheating.

Charlene Potts

"It seems to be a cut-and-dry thing. You turn in work not your own, obviously that's plagiarism," says Patrick Grizzard, a graduate student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. "But if you have the right to publish instructions on how to manufacture illicit substances or explosive devices on the Internet, how can you say you don't have the right to publish people's papers?"

CORRECTION: An item in last week's Signal & Noise about EFF's Cooperative Computing Awards mistakenly reported that the largest known prime number is 909,526. In fact, the largest known prime number is 909,526 digits long.

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