Software aims to catch plagiarism

After a series of damaging newspaper scandals, a new piece of software looks to help stop wrongdoers before their articles go to print.

After a series of damaging newspaper scandals involving plagiarism in recent years, a new piece of software looks to help editors stop wrongdoers before their articles go to print.

The LexisNexis data collection service has introduced CopyGuard, a program aimed at exposing plagiarists or spotting copyright infringement. According to John Barrie, chief executive of iParadigms, the company that developed the program with LexisNexis, CopyGuard can generate a report that calculates the percentage of material suspected of not being original, highlights that text and pinpoints its possible original source, all within seconds.

"We take digital fingerprints of individual documents and compare them to the digital fingerprints of existing documents," Barrie said.


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Existing programs from iParadigm and others have focused on plagiarism by students, not journalists. CopyGuard, which is available by subscription (the company would not divulge the price of the service) draws on LexisNexis' database of more than six billion documents and several years' worth of Web pages archived by iParadigm. In addition to checking newspaper and magazine articles, CopyGuard can be used by publishers to scan book manuscripts.

"It should be that these institutions want to deter their problem before it happens," Barrie said. He said that CopyGuard would have caught plagiarism by Jayson Blair, a former reporter for The New York Times, and disputed passages in works by historians Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin. (The Times cooperated in the development of the software but is not currently a customer, according to a Times spokesman, Toby Usnik.)

Last year, Carolyn Lumsden, the editorial page editor of The Hartford Courant, used a similar program, developed by iParadigms, to vet the submissions of nonjournalists writing for the paper's opinion pages. She said she used it because some contributors did not realize copying and pasting from other sources was unacceptable.

"The feeling was people outside the newsroom don't know newspaper norms," she said.

Debashis Aikat, an associate professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina, praised the use of checks and balances in newsrooms but speculated that the cunning plagiarist could still sidestep the archived materials. "You really cannot have software that can cover everything, but this is a step in the right direction.

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