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Student Plagiarism and Ghostwriting

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Plagiarism is a growing problem for universities around the world. The rise of online writing services known as paper mills has only made it worse. These are companies that perform research and writing for a fee, catering to students in nearly every discipline. Some obviously produce sub-par materials, but others are more difficult to rate in terms of quality, even offering free plagiarism-checking tools.

Plagiarism Main

The Bad Artists Imitate, The Great Artists Steal – Bansky

Fortunately professors are increasingly aware of these sites, and able to actively combat them thanks to tools such as iThenticate, or the more popular Turn It In, which even provide databases of paper mills. Even so, many professors often feel they are fighting an uphill battle. This is due in part to the fact that recently a growing number of unemployed university professors are selling their research and writing services to students. To quote one such professor, “It is highly unethical, though completely legal.” (Jennifer Sunseri, Huffington Post.) She is correct on both counts.

The practice is commonly referred to as ghostwriting, and it is protected under the 1976 Copyright Act, Works Made for Hire. This law allows a company or individual to claim authorship of works they commission. Legally it is because without the commissioning party, the work would not exist, meaning the person paying for it owns it and any related ideas or concepts.

Even if the author receives no acknowledgement other than his or her agreed financial compensation, it is not plagiarism in the eyes of the law. Ethically, it remains a case of plagiarism, but because the law protects ghostwriting the practice continues. In fact, numerous surveys report that a significant number of students from high school through university levels plagiarize at least part of their work. Ethically this practice is diametrically opposed to everything universities stand for. Yet it continues.

Thankfully for ethics and morality, a professor’s writing services are not inexpensive, and most unscrupulous students won’t be able to afford them. This leaves a selection of sites that are at best questionable, and quite often not even handled by people who have English as a first language. Still, unless there is a legal distinction made between ethics and commerce as concerns plagiarism, the use of third party writing services is likely to continue.

Image Credit:
Fé de erratas / Typo slip
The Bad Artists Imitate, The Great Artists Steal by Banksy
Found on flickrcc.net

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About Henry Buell

A world traveled analyst, Henry has lived through political upheaval, revolutions, and war. He writes from a different perspective, with a passion for life, tempered by experience. More information can be found on Henry Buell's website.