Copyscape is an anti-plagiarism tool that is helping writers protect their work against plagiarists and other content thievery while at the same time protecting writers from inadvertently using another writer’s words. The program is quickly becoming as important to writers as a word processor, printer and good editor.
While the act of plagiarizing is technically not illegal, serious violations could constitute a copyright violation that is, according to the United States Attorneys’ Manual, punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine for each instance. In addition, the practice of plagiarism is considered a severe violation of ethics when practiced in the arena of academia and journalism. Still, plagiarism exists in both.
According to Don Campbell, writer and Emory University Journalism School lecturer, plagiarism has reached epidemic levels throughout college campuses. In fact, Campbell explained that for some students, it is the number one strategy when looking to advance in the classroom.
“It’s so easy now. Students can use computers and smart phones to achieve a better grade, and you can buy an online paper on any subject imaginable,” said Campbell.
Even more alarming is the age in which plagiarism is first practices, said Donald McCabe, Rutgers University professor in global business and management. McCabe researched 50,000 students across the country and found that nearly 7 in 10 students admitted to some form of plagiarism.
“Internet plagiarism is exploding because students don’t know how to use the internet or its content,” said McCabe.
The study further unveiled that more than 35 percent of college students regularly use copyrighted material without revealing the source while nearly one in four graduate students did the same. In addition, nearly 10 percent of the students surveyed indicated they blatantly copied large sections of text word-for-word without giving appropriate credit to the source. The same percentage of students surveyed admitted to simply submitting a paper or other body of work that was written entirely by another person.
“Don’t believe that this kind of cheating has gone down. Students are doing it more because they don’t consider it cheating,” said McCabe.
The slope gets even more slippery when it comes to journalists who must scrap and claw for the first word on a subject in order to be the source for a news story. According to Alan Milner, senior U.S. news editor for the online newspaper, Guardian Liberty Voice, the Internet has greatly changed the way journalist’s work and research articles.
“The so-called ‘digital cowboys’ of the newsroom have become laissez-faire toward the prim and proper variables of reporting as grammar, punctuation, corroboration and documentation,” said Milner.
This new, shoot from the hip style of reporting is the direct result of how newspapers today are produced. According to Milner, the rules have changed for every journalist in the world. Milner, who has also worked for such reporting outlets as ABC News, the New York Post, and the Boston Phoenix, explained that unlike the print editions of newspapers, which had a limited number of inches for a story and a specific deadline for placing the article within the time frame of the printing process, today’s online newspapers have no space requirements and no deadlines. They are online and live, constantly updated around the clock.
“It might seem that digital journalists have all the time in the world get their stories edited and published. On the contrary, today’s journalists are under the gun, all the time, 24 hours a day, to get stories out faster than the competition,” said Milner.
With the compressed nature of today’s news cycle, reporters have to rely on other reporters who are actually breaking the news as their source. Like student’s writing classroom term paper, journalists may be tempted to grab chunk of words from previously published article. The term for this practice is called “copyscaping”, and it carries the punishment of employment termination. If you are the first person to report the story, however, your work not only receives a high value of visibility on the Internet, is also copyscape protected.
Milner encouraged the use of a website called, Copyscape and emphasized that while the world of journalism has changed its color, the basic engine is the same and writers who wish to avoid plagiarism should invest time in the site.
Dallas based freelance reporter and award-winning journalist, Rebecca Aguilar explained that the online Copyscape.com is a great resource for reporters wanting to write clean copy. By simply entering the URL of any website, and you can check if the material was plagiarized.
“It appears to be the only tool targeting online plagiarism,” said Aguilar.
The service, which is free, also has a for-pay model that actually searches to see if your work has inadvertent plagiarism. The service can also send you plagiarism alerts to your e-mail.
“There are thousands of web site owners using it every month,” said Gideon Greenspan, chief technology officer of Indigo Stream Technologies, which created the service in 2004.
The Internet will undoubtedly continue to be the main source for news and information for the future, as well as the well from which many students will draw their data and narrow their research. However, with the onslaught of online content combined with the dangers associated with plagiarism, the copyscape service is quickly being used as valuable tool for any writer who wants to protect or avoid plagiarized words.
By Vincent Aviani