Don McCabe has surveyed 45,000 of America’s college students over the past three years, asking them to come clean about whether they cheat on their tests and term papers.
Many cheaters in the classroom are surprisingly honest in the surveys, said McCabe, the founder of the Center for Academic Integrity and a foremost authority on academic fraud. About 37 percent have admitted to what’s called “cut- and-paste” plagiarism, the practice of creating term papers by copying information available over the Internet.
University authorities consider this practice to be a violation of conduct codes, and the penalty can range from a failing grade on an assignment to expulsion.
In a case filed not too far from St. Louis, a student is battling a Carbondale, Ill., company that she says offered her essay for sale online without permission. Such businesses are known as “paper mills.” As with cut-and-paste plagiarism, it’s out of bounds for students to use them.
The suit, filed in August in U.S. District Court in Benton, Ill., accuses business owner Rusty Carroll, his company, R2C2 Inc., and the Internet company that hosts his Web site of violating copyright laws.
The plaintiff is a graduate student named Blue Macellari, who is enrolled in a joint program offered by Duke and Johns Hopkins universities. According to the suit, a friend entered her name into the Google search engine, and the results turned up a paper Macellari had written and posted online while finishing undergraduate studies in South Africa. The paper had been available after the payment of a registration fee at several Web sites.
Macellari’s lawyers are representing her for free, McCabe said. They called him before filing, telling him to expect calls from reporters.
“Someone screwed up,” he said, evaluating what happened with Macellari’s paper. “Whether there was a mistake, legally, that can be argued forever, but clearly, there was a mistake.”
Lawyers representing the defendants did not return calls seeking comment, but they have filed answers to Macellari’s complaint.
They suggest that their clients aren’t liable for breaking copyright codes because a student is not a competing business interest.
Advertisements for paper mills used to be relegated to postage-stamp-sized appeals in the backs of magazines, but the services they offer are now easily accessed over the Internet.