Students who get caught cheating in class could be kicked out of school. So to peek at others' papers, some are going online, where their teachers usually aren't looking.
But at least one school, South Plains College in Texas, has caught wind of the virtual "black market" for term papers and essays. James Taylor, vice president of academic affairs, sent out letters to more than 40 Web sites Monday, warning them that a new state law goes into effect in September to prohibit the "selling of term papers and other materials for the purpose of cheating in institutions of higher education."
Although most of the sites are based outside of Texas and don't accept cash for essays, Taylor said he was encouraged by a Net-savvy instructor to inform online term paper clearinghouses that they could be fined $500 for soliciting or selling papers to South Plains students who live in at least 28 towns in Texas.
"When students buy papers, use them, or collect them, even for free, it's dishonest and plagiarism," Taylor said today. "At this point, we were simply providing notice that the law will change. I don't know what we'll do beyond that, because we haven't identified any sites that are selling papers specifically to our students. If we found that this was happening, we would get them prosecuted."
Most of the sites scoffed at the threat, invoking the right to free speech or stating that Texas has no jurisdiction over their business practices, which recent court rulings on the Net both support and contradict. Like the obstacles facing state regulators when it comes to overseeing online gambling, some site publishers told Texas it wouldn't be able to enforce its term-paper scalping law in cyberspace because the of the global nature of the medium.
The Net offers an easy, anonymous way to share or copy other student's work, which makes educators nervous and wary. Sites such as IvyEssays sell a single copy of a "successful" admission essay used by students to get into Ivy League schools for $1 to $4. The Term Paper Warehouse sells school reports for $6.50 per page. The Term Paper Emporium provides free links to papers all over the Net.
The creators of the "no teachers allowed" Cheater.com site received the letter but said they will not take down the entire site to keep Texans out.
Cheater.com was launched in January by four high-school students in Virginia. By becoming a member, surfers gain access to research papers about history, English, geography, and science. Members don't have to pay a fee but are encouraged to donate materials.
"I'm a high-school student where the quickest, easiest way to cheat is when a friend asks to peek at your homework in the hall. This happens in school every day, and even in college. It's nothing new," said the 17-year-old founder of Cheater.com, who asked to remain nameless. "In their eyes, it's illegal, but I'm just sharing the resources. This is just like going to the library."
Unlike the library, Cheater.com purposely omits authors' names, and essays don't always contain source lists, as "resources" usually do. By typing in "Romeo and Juliet," for example, search results turn up abstracts of the play, analysis of scenes, and essays. Some materials contain footnotes while others don't. Many appear to be sections of papers, not whole essays. So it might be difficult for a student to simply slap their name on a document and turn it in.
But Taylor argues that Cheater.com isn't a reference site like ResearchPaper.com.
"Given the name of the site--'cheater'--it gives you [an idea of] what they think they're about," Taylor said.
Nevertheless, the creators of Cheater.com say Texas has nothing on them because they've never accepted a dime from anyone. "We've never sold anything on the site; it's totally free," said the site's founder. "Plus this is a matter of our right to free speech."
The Cheater site has no policy as to how papers can or should be used but is working on a draft now and will inform its members of the Texas law. "I know that some kids may use these for cheating, and in the long run, it's really going to hurt them," the founder said.