Cut and paste’ Internet plagiarism soars

Michael Shaw and Michael Shaw

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 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.

“It’s becoming a pervasive problem,” said McCabe, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey. “It happens a lot in last-minute situations. The paper isn’t done, and it’s the night before it’s due. If they don’t get caught, it’s tempting to do it again.”

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.

David Hoffman, assistant dean of student affairs at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., said it’s important for faculty to root out cheating.

“I don’t want my surgeon, my structural engineer, my airline pilot thinking it’s OK to cut corners,” he said.

It’s not just deans who are concerned about academic fraud. 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.