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Psst: Hey, kid, Essays for sale

By Brandon Johansson
The Daily Times-Call

Ageneration ago, if lazy high school or college students wanted to pawn off someone else’s work as their own, they had to spend hours copying essays, reports and term papers the hard way.

Now — thanks to the magic of e-commerce — today’s tech-savvy students can plagiarize an entire paper with just a few clicks and a credit card.

A multitude of online “paper mills” have popped up in recent years, offering students custom-written, “A-quality papers” for prices ranging from $10 to $30 a page. All it takes is a quick search on sites such as Google.

An increasing number of students are willing to pay these fees rather than do the work themselves.

“Plagiarism is one of the oldest professions in the world. It’s like prostitution,” said Barbara Glatt, a former writing instructor at the University of Chicago and California State University, Sacramento. “But the Internet has made plagiarism into a bull market.”

Glatt, who has been fighting plagiarism for nearly 20 years, sells software — available at www.plagiarism.org — that professors can use to catch cheaters.

“People underestimate how much information is out there,” said John Barrie, one of the founders of www.turnitin.com, an affiliate of Glatt’s Web site.

According to Barrie, turnitin.com’s service is used more than 20,000 times a day by professors trying to deter plagiarism in classes.

Information on most paper mill Web sites says their papers are meant to serve as research models or templates to help students write their own.

“I provide a product to help (students) and to guide them,” said Marcelo Vilanez, president of thepaperexperts.com, a Toronto, Canada-based paper mill.

He said his company is even expanding to offer students one-on-one tutoring.

According to Vilanez, if students tell him they are going to turn in one of his companies’ papers as their own, he refuses to work with them.

“If someone is submitting our work as their own, they are going to get caught in the end,” Vilanez said.

While companies such as Vilanez’s outwardly are adamant about being for research purposes only, there also are a few that don’t shy away from their plagiarism roots.

One such site is the Denmark-based www.cheathouse.com — formerly evilhouseofcheat.com.

Jens Schriver, the creator of the site, could not be reached for comment, but the Web site quotes him as saying, “I provide a service not too different from that of a library. It can be used legitimately, to do research and get inspired, or it can be used to outright plagiarize.”

The number of students getting their work from paper mills is on the rise. According to a 1999 survey by plagiarism watchdogs at the Center for Academic Integrity, 10 percent of college students had used some form of Internet plagiarism. This includes everything from copying a few sentences to plagiarizing an entire term paper.

According to the organization’s most recent study, by 2001, the percentage of students using Internet plagiarism had climbed to 41 percent. This same study also showed 68 percent of college students don’t think Internet plagiarism is an important issue.

For those working for paper mills, business is good. According to Donald Fresh, writing administrator at authenticessays.com, his staff of 12 full-time employees and a few part-timers fills 30 to 50 requests for papers each week.

Fresh declined to disclose the location of Authenticessays.com or speak over the phone.

Representatives from two other paper mills, academon.com and exampleessays.com, declined requests for interviews.

_ _ _

Work in the term paper business is seasonal, with business peaking near midterm exams and finals weeks. Vilanez said his company fills more than 1,000 requests during its peak seasons.

Whether more papers are bought by students at major universities or small colleges is unclear. Fresh said it seems to go in waves and there isn’t much of a pattern to show students at big schools buy more papers than those at small ones.

“I don’t know that I would say we have a problem (with plagiarism), but most of the plagiarism we see is from the Internet,” said Kris Binard, dean of student affairs at Front Range Community College.

When FRCC students are caught cheating, it is up to their instructors and professors to decide the effect it will have on grades. Some faculty members will fail a student immediately, and some give an F on the paper.

But it is Binard’s responsibility to decide on disciplinary actions such as suspension or probation.

Binard said most of the students at FRCC are hard-working, but every once in a while, a student will turn in a plagiarized paper from the Internet.

“Usually something has occurred to push them to that point,” she said.

In many states, including Colorado, selling term papers and essays for students to use as their own is illegal. In large part, this is the reason for disclaimers on Web sites that encourage students to use the papers for reference only.

“We clearly state on our site that the papers are to be used for reference purposes only,” Fresh said. “I realize that there are some students that might disregard our warnings. However, I believe that a majority of our customers are honest people.”

Saying their papers are for “reference purposes only,” however, does not keep paper mills out of legal hot water.

In 1972, the state of New York took an old-fashioned mail-order paper mill named Sanskritt to court and had it shut down.

The state argued that Sanskritt was committing fraud by helping students fraudulently obtain diplomas.

Sanskritt’s attorneys argued that they were not selling term papers for students to turn in as their own. They claimed their papers were for reference only, pointing to numerous disclaimers that said things like “This material is intended to be used for research and reference purposes only” and “We don’t condone plagiarism.”

Despite the warnings, the court found that because Sanskritt was selling term papers to students and because they had a sign in their office that said, “We do not guarantee grades,” the company was knowingly helping students fraudulently obtain diplomas.

Colorado law differs from New York law in that it doesn’t mention fraudulently obtained diplomas. In Colorado, it is simply illegal to sell term papers.

“No person shall prepare, offer to prepare, cause to be prepared, sell, or distribute any term paper ... under circumstances in which he should reasonably have known, that such term paper ... is to be submitted by any other person for academic credit,” the statute reads.

According to University of Colorado law professor Phil Weiser, the difficult part of the law is enforcing it. Internet companies often are hard to track down, and because some of them operate in international locations, it can be more costly and difficult to go after them than it is worth.

Because of the questionable legality of the industry, paper mills tend to be fairly secretive.

Most sites will do business only by e-mail and do not include a phone number on their sites.

According to Vilanez, his company and its affiliates are the only ones that include a phone number and encourage customers to call.

“I’m doing my best to help. If someone wants to turn (an essay we provide) in, I’m handcuffed,” Vilanez said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 389, or by e-mail at bjohansson@times-call.com.