Ethical Issues Involving Online Paper Services
Using Editing Sites
Using a Bought Paper
Using Editing Sites
Some paper-writing sites also offer editing services. The student sends them her paper and the site's editors edits it for her. This seems like a reasonable service at first, since the student writes the paper. If the site only marks areas for improvement and gives tips on grammatical corrections to make, then the editors are serving the same purpose as a roommate who is asked to proofread a paper. Of course, most people are unwilling to pay four dollars a page for mere proofreading. It seems more probable that the sites are actually altering the papers they receive for editing. This is closer to co-writing a paper with your roommate than having him proofread it, and for most classes, falls into the category of “unauthorized aid”.
Using a Bought Paper
Buying a paper off a site is not, in itself, unethical, unless one considers that the student buying the paper is supporting a site whose papers are used for unethical purposes. It is obviously unethical for a student to put his name on a paper and submit it as his own if he did not write it, but what if the student buys the paper and uses it for ideas for his own paper? One could argue that simply using the paper for an idea is similar to discussing an idea with another student, which is usually permissible. However, because the paper is a written resource, if the student does not cite the paper as being responsible for some of his ideas, then he is plagiarizing it. If the paper is cited, then it should be treated as any other resource that the student could get from the library. The web-sites that sell these papers usually include a disclaimer that states that the papers they sell must be used as a reference and cited. The following is an example of a disclaimer from a web-site which sells papers:“All research papers are owned by The Paper Store Enterprises, Inc. and are the property of the corporation and our contracted writers. Our work is designed only to assist students in the preparation of their own work. Students who use our service are responsible not only for writing their own papers, but also for citing The Paper Store as a source when doing so.” -www.africanlit.com
A paper written by an unknown source is not the best reference to site in a paper, but it is possible that some students would seek to use the papers for only this purpose.
So far we’ve examined the ethical issues involved with downloading and using a paper. It is also important to look at the ethics of uploading papers. Paper-selling sites rely on people who are willing to sell their papers online. For those sites who write custom papers, they rely on a pool of students and other people who can write a paper on demand. To the students who write these papers, this may seem like simply an easy way to make some money. If you have to write it for a class anyway, why not make something off it, right? The students are clearly giving unauthorized aid to other students, even if they don’t know the student they are aiding.
But what if the student merely uploads the paper to his web-site? Perhaps he is proud of it, or perhaps he wants his parents to be able to read it. Is that student responsible for another student finding that paper and using it as his own? The student who posted it can be considered negligent, but if his intent was not to promote plagiarism, then he hasn’t really done anything unethical. Seen in the same light, the student who uploads his paper to a paper-selling site may intend for it to be used as a reference only. This seems unlikely because his name is not on it and so the paper can’t be truly referenced, but it is possible. Because it is almost impossible to judge intent, it will become increasing difficult for schools to prosecute students who upload or download papers from the Internet.
School is hard work. Homework and studying for tests and exams is just the beginning. Students of all ages usually have to write essays and term papers, too. That takes research, planning and time. Sometimes, students take the easy way out and cheat - they buy term papers.
It's fast and easy, but it may also be illegal.
Anything Can Be Found
Copying, cheating and plagiarizing have become easier for many students with the availability of internet companies selling term papers. From a report on Shakespeare's Macbeth to a discussion of Einstein's theory of relativity, chances are you can find a term paper on most subjects.
All Sorts of Services are Available
You can use many of these web sites as part of your research or finding a good topic to write about. You can go a few steps further and:
- Copy and paste materials available on the sites
- Pay someone to custom write a paper for you, or
- Buy a complete term paper or essay
Some of the sites require paying by credit card or online check per term paper. Some require you to submit your own term paper in order to get access to the site - you trade yours for access to other papers.
The Legal Consequences
Whether you sell or buy a term paper, or write a term paper for someone else, you may face legal problems.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship. It can be a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work such as a novel, play, song, software or painting. Copyright law gives the author or owner of a work the right to control use of the work.
Copyright protection begins from the moment a work is created. Unlike patents, copyright protection comes as soon as the work has been created. You don't need to apply or register for protection. If you wish, the work can be registered with the US Copyright Office that allows you to enforce your copyright later.
Copyright infringement is the unauthorized or prohibited use of works covered by the law. The unauthorized use must violate one of the copyright owner's exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce the copyrighted work.
Writers Strike Back
Authors of term papers and essays have used the copyright laws to file class action lawsuits and other lawsuits against web sites that sell the authors' works without the authors' permission. In one famous case, several web sites agreed to pay the authors money damages, and eventually shut down the sites.
In similar suits, courts have even ordered web sites to shut down or not to offer services within the state.
Several states, such as Massachusetts, make it illegal for anyone to prepare or sell term papers or other academic papers for someone else. In 2011, a Massachusetts lawyer placed ads online offering to write term papers for law students for a mere $300. He was suspended from practicing law and was fired from his job as a court clerk.
Academic & Ethical Considerations
Students who buy term papers and turn them in as their own work, or buy and resell a paper, are committing copyright infringement, too, if they don't have the author's permission.
Beyond the potential legal problems, students have academic and ethical responsibilities - to themselves, their classmates and their schools. Students who use someone else's term paper may face stiff penalties at school, including expulsion. More and more schools have rules about buying term papers. There are tools and software teachers and professors can use to see if students have plagiarized their work, too.
In the end, both sides need to be careful. It's always best for students to do their own work, and for term-paper mills to make sure they have the authors' permission before selling their term papers.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I think my paper was published without my permission. Can I file a lawsuit?
- Will I get sued for copyright infringement if I use a paper I found on one of these sites if the site didn't have permission to post it?
- Does expulsion from school stay on a student's permanent record?