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The Ever-Increasing Need for Anti-Plagiarism Software

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The increasing need for anti-plagiarism software

Plagiarism is being caught at increasingly alarming rates in today’s world. This is of utmost concern for those who are in a position to maintain accountability with intellectual property, or academic integrity. After all, plagiarizing has never been easier than it is today, with the ability to copy and paste entire works spanning the vast Internet.

This blog will detail the theoretical foundations of plagiarism. It will also discuss the mindset of students in today’s world, in which everything from education to communication itself moves to a digital medium.

What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the intentional (or unintentional) act of copying someone else’s work and passing it off as your own.

Some core motivators behind plagiarism will considered, as well as the role of technology in the changing dynamics of educational and publishing cultures.

The question of who is hurt by plagiarism will be looked at from both, a historical perspective, and through the lens of today. The dangers of over-philosophizing behaviors will be included with a specific focus on what anti-plagiarism can and cannot do.

Many indirect effects of anti-plagiarism software on education, public trust, and the process of gleaning scientific knowledge will be made clear as well.

The best anti-plagiarism software currently available will be discussed, along with possible future implications of it. Finally, we will consider the role artificial intelligence has in being integrated into anti-plagiarism software, and how it may be used. Anti-plagiarism software is indispensable in today’s culture, and growing more intelligent every day.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a form of fraud, in which individuals attempt to pass off someone else’s ideas as their own. In today’s hyper-connected information age, this happens both inadvertently, and intentionally. This is why proper citing and the aid of anti-plagiarism software are essential to avoiding accidental intellectual theft.

Intellectual property is protected by United States law. All it takes is a recording of one’s ideas on a computer file, or a published work under one’s name to achieve this protection.

The most common forms of plagiarism include:

  • Submitting another’s work and claiming it as done by yourself.
  • Including concepts, ideas, or words from another without giving proper credit through citation.
  • Including a quote without providing quotation marks.
  • Copying a sentence structure of a source without citation.
  • Ignoring “fair use” rules through the use of so many concepts and words from a source it is indistinguishable from your own.
  • The use of a piece of music, video material, or an image without proper citation or permission.

The case of Richard Prince, Instagram fraud

Recently there have been many cases of plagiarism of artistic mediums due to how prevalent artists’ make their work online, and how easy it is to rip off someone else's concept or their material.

This practice recently came to a head when “artist” Richard Prince took screenshots of other people’s pictures, enlarged them, and sold them in art galleries for up to $90,000 each. Having claimed the work as his own, museum directors and the public were shocked when many of the original photographers of the images came forward in outrage.

When Prince’s reputation plummeted and museums were no longer willing to show his “work”, it highlighted the fact that Prince had been “re-photographing” for years.

In fact, Prince had made his entire reputation and career by stealing art from others. He was only able to get away with doing this before the prevalence and connected nature of the Internet made both, stealing and policing images simpler.

However, once money has changed hands for the sale of plagiarized material, it remains difficult to right these wrongs in the eyes of the creator.

Who is hurt by plagiarism?

All too often, plagiarizers are able to get away with their theft. This is largely because it is up to the individual who was plagiarized to sue for damages. The cost of suing is greater than what independent writers and artists can afford.

This can be discouraging for those who find their ideas and images corrupted by those who are willing to risk the loss of reputation for profit.

Those who are hurt most by plagiarism are the creators who have developed the original material, only to have the fruits of their labor stolen by another. Often, those who steal make up for their lack of originality through amazing feats of charismatic salesmanship.

Throughout history there are numerous examples of men close to the idea makers who find ways to undermine their ingenuity, and take credit for their innovation. The current legal battle between Apple and Samsung over smartphone design is an example of disputed intellectual property.

Notable intellectual property disputes:

  • Radio - Marconi vs. Tesla
  • Lasers - Gordon Gould vs. Arthur Schawlow & Charles Townes/the US Patent Office
  • The telephone - Alexander Graham Bell vs. Elisha Gray
  • The moving picture - Francis Jenkins vs. Thomas Edison
  • Intermittent windshield wiper - Robert Kearns vs. Ford and Chrysler
  • Television - Philo Farnsworth vs. Vladimir Zworykin and RCA
  • Facebook - Winklevoss and Connect U vs. Mark Zuckerberg
Winklevoss vs. Zuckerberg
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (left) unsuccessfully claimed the social media network Facebook, was their creation, and not the creation of Mark Zuckerberg (right) as credited.

The saying, “possession is nine tenths of the law” is the moxie behind many of these stolen intellectual concepts. Even the legendary inventor Nikola Tesla did not have the money to sue to protect his amazing inventions. Considering the incredible rate of inflation, this method may even be less accessible for many people today.

Plagiarism has occurred regularly throughout history as idea makers helped their concepts evolve through collaboration with specific parties. All too often this show of good faith was abused, and the actual forces behind creation were disempowered and forgotten.

Plagiarism is a serious offense. For many institutions of higher learning, the first offense is often punished by suspension, and future offenses can be punishable by expulsion. This occurrence goes on a student’s permanent record, and has the potential to directly impact what schools they may gain access to.

Plagiarism can also be the death of someone’s academic or professional reputation. The scholarly community is founded upon scientific pathways of collaboration, which builds upon the conceptual blocks of others. If these blocks are undermined by deceit, the entire collaborative work may be discredited.

Plagiarized research could have far reaching effects on humanity, such as in the case of misappropriated medical research. Ultimately, no one is safe from the far-reaching effects of plagiarism, as it undermines the fabric of fact checking. Fact-checking assures best-evidenced based application of ideas.

The naivety of disinterest

Some have undermined how devastating plagiarism can be through the lens of “disinterestedness”. Sociologist Robert Merton claimed that

through the disinterestedness in scientific goals it is not important who makes a finding but rather what that finding is”.

This is a profoundly naive perspective, and disregards the accountability the scientific community to reproduce and verify new insights. When plagiarism occurs this system of checks and balances falls apart.

Of this disinterest Kenneth D. Pimple went on to defend Merton’s position through the perspective that

No harm would be done to the Theory of Relativity if we discovered Einstein had plagiarized it...[P]lagiarism … is an offense against the community of scientists, rather than against science itself. Who makes a particular finding will not matter to science in one hundred years, but today it matters deeply to the community of scientists.”

The story of Nikola Tesla is a strong deterrence to this philosophy of disinterest. Having his inventions stolen broke the great inventor’s spirit, and his will to share his genius with humanity. As a result of this betrayal, he withdrew from public life, and grew bitter. As a result, many amazing ideas were lost to his personal vault.

Plagiarism is akin to a cancer eroding public discussion. It eats away at those contributing new voices and ideas. If left unchecked, it could lead to a degradation of human thought much like in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. In the novel, the great makers of the world withdrew their creations from the great takers of the world.

What does anti-plagiarism software do?

Anti-plagiarism software works by checking documents for multiple words, phrases, and sentences against previously published works published online (books, journals, various forms of papers, articles, etc.). Click here to learn more about the different forms of plagiarism.

However, this market is expanding exponentially, as is plagiarism itself. New algorithms and avenues of detection are being implemented to root out possible plagiarism.

One of the largest anti-plagiarism software in use today is Turnitin. Turnitin is currently utilized by half of all U.S. colleges, and a quarter of all high schools. Turnitin is how the majority of students in elementary and high school have their assignments checked for plagiarism. Vice President of Marketing for Turnitin.com, Chris Harrick states...

Automatically, that paper gets checked against about 45 billion web pages; 110 million content items from publishers, scientific journals, et cetera; and 400 million student papers to provide an originality report.

However, competition breeds innovation. Turnitin is constantly expanding its database and analytical capacity by keeping all papers submitted through its system in its evolving frame of reference.

In the past, unscrupulous students may have sold their old papers to the next generation of students, but that process has been largely eradicated by this algorithmic approach.

How Turnitin applies their algorithms is, after comparison, a complete a report is created in which the percentage of the work matching other sources is detailed. The report does not claim “This is plagiarism”, but only offers “This is similar.” The report is color coded to offer an easy way to check suspected passages.

Sources of matched content (Turnitin) Source: WWU
Data from Turnitin revealed that over 2/3 of the matched content Turnitin flagged in 2013 is found in papers written by students.

Anti-plagiarism software indirect effect

Many teachers who use Turnitin find many cases of indirect plagiarism. This emphasizes that many students do not know how to properly cite material they use. This lack of proper citation is in part due to an underlying delusion concerning learning today.

All too often, students may unconsciously believe when they learn something it becomes theirs, and so giving credit where credit is due is lost in a cyclone of entitlement. This delusional entitlement is born of the consumer society, which promises that anything can be had with the correct amount of money.

Hyper-consumerism may be one cause for the wild growth of recent plagiarism. Educators have moved to increase awareness of what is and is not plagiarism, as well as implement ethical Internet practices.

This has gone a long way to curb accidental plagiarism. This does not change the fact that the use of anti-plagiarism software puts teachers and students in adversarial positions, as it implies an indirect guilt.

This adversarial position does not help to inspire, but to isolate, and over-emphasize immorality. Some professors make a point of emphasizing how effective anti-plagiarism software is, and how they have used it to get students expelled in the past.

Much like zero-tolerance policies in high schools, an adversarial and unbending position which is overly reliant upon technology can breed mistrust and accidents.

Those who most often confront this adversarial nature of suspected plagiarism through the use of this technology are college professors. Many of whom decry the use of the software as undermining the academic relationship.

In 2013 members of the Conference on College Composition and Communication issued a resolution against anti-plagiarism software which asserts,

"Plagiarism detection services can compromise academic integrity by potentially undermining students' agency as writers, treating all students as always already plagiarists, creating a hostile learning environment, shifting the responsibility of identifying and interpreting source misuse from teachers to technology, and compelling students to agree to licensing agreements that threaten their privacy and rights to their own intellectual property."

Many educators emphasize that the use of anti-plagiarism software oversimplifies a much more complex question on the nature of authorial integrity, and the factors which may compromise it.

Other detractors emphasize the use of this tool keeps educators from paying a close eye to student’s compositions, and rather turns them into service bots of a sort.

Professor Chris Anson of North Carolina State University asserts this criticism highlights the reality that

"plagiarism could be reduced and made easy to detect with the human eye if professors gave students unique assignments and worked with students rather than cutting them loose with a deadline...The most easily plagiarized papers are the ones on the most stereotypical projects."

Anson asserts that students resort to plagiarism when they are under-supported by their educators and institutions. This lack of support can take many forms, and may be closely tied with the focus on profit in education, rather than character building and preparation for the real-life work context.

Those who support anti-plagiarism software emphasize it is a tool, and what is most important is how it is used. Whether it is used as a form of “catch and punish” or “expose and learn” is up to the professor. A professor may have to thoroughly make sure his or her students know how to properly quote, and use citations in order to avoid accidental plagiarism.

Many anti-plagiarism software programs take and keep all student’s work submitted without compensation. This is a clear violation of the very intellectual property rights the programmers claim to protect. This duplicitous practice has been the focus of a lot unsuccessful litigation, and may represent the Achilles heel to this debate.

Who uses anti-plagiarism software?

Many groups of people use anti-plagiarism software either as, a course of their business, their education, of their career. Educators checking student work are the most common users. This is most common in high school and college.

Students use anti-plagiarism software to double check their work before turning it in, as it provides good feedback and direction as they work. For instance, some professors will not allow over 20% quoted material even if it is properly cited, as they want their students to write more than quote.

In 2012 the University of California Los Angeles used anti-plagiarism software to check all of their student admissions essays. The result is that 52 applicants were denied admission based on plagiarism alone. Applicants should keep in mind,

"If an applicant is found to have plagiarized, UCLA plans to simply reject the application rather than enter into discussion with a prospective student. If more than 10 percent of the work is not a students', then they can expect to be turned down."

Many of these offenders were applicants from countries outside the United States. This implies that many turn to plagiarism when they feel unfamiliar with the language, context, or are trying to represent themselves as something they are not.

Researchers report that due to the heightened nature of competition, nearly half of the applications to Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard are likely to be “polished” by consultants.

Professional and freelance writers use anti-plagiarism software to double check their work, and ensure their content will meet their client’s originality standards. Career writers cannot afford to be caught plagiarizing as their reputation and client list is one large aspect of the strength of their career.

This holds true for reporters and journalists who need to ensure their work is unique and free of libel.

Lawyers and business professionals use anti-plagiarism software to ensure they are not legally culpable for infringing upon any copyrighted material. At the level of large corporations, those who have believed their intellectual property to be infringed upon often have the resources to seek reparations, and so plagiarism is duly avoided.

How effective is anti-plagiarism software?

Anti-plagiarism software is a relatively new tech tool, and as such, it has limited applications and creative loopholes. Recognizing this, software innovators are continuing to expand the capacity of their programs every day.

Addressing the overconfidence of new technologies, Dr. James Heather reported in the journal Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education a new study, “Turnitoff: identifying and fixing a hole in current plagiarism detection software”. Dr. Heather emphasizes,

"In their current incarnation, one can easily create a document that passes the plagiarism check regardless of how much copied material it contains. When there are loopholes that can be exploited, they give the operator a false assurance that a submission is original...If we can stop the text from being properly extracted from the document, without affecting how the document looks and prints, then the software will not be able to identify any plagiarized material."

This is accomplished through converting a word file to a pdf and back, and altering the character map on which the anti-plagiarism map is built upon or rearranging the character codes.

Also, Dr. Heather shares savvy plagiarizers could convert the text to Bezier curves which shield the shapes of the letters rather than relying upon character analysis. In this scenario, there is no text for the algorithm to analyze.

Bezier curvesSource: WC
Bezier Curves (pictured below) are used to mask text from plagiarism checkers by scammers, but technology is catching on and implementing detecting them.

Dr. Heather finishes his study through supplementing anti-plagiarism software with an optical character recognition (OCR), which is able to fill in the cognitive blanks in the software, and rather

"do the same thing as the human reader of the submission: take a rendered copy of the work and interpret the marks that appear on the page. This immediately counters all attempts to alter the internals of the document."

This method is expensive and time consuming. It also raises many contextual questions about how costly honesty is.

These technological shortcomings of anti-plagiarism software are not the only loopholes, as tracking methods can be beaten through manual analogue methods as well. For example, if a bit of text is reworded, rewritten, or translated it is often likely that the anti-plagiarism software will miss it.

Also, creative students use Turnitin to analyze their own work, and modify their text just to the point where it will escape detection. This movement represents a fundamental breakdown of trust in the educational system where technology is used as much as a ruse as a teaching tool.

Most popular anti-plagiarism tools analysis
The following chart details the most widely used anti-plagiarism software, comparing their methods, strengths, weaknesses, and prices.
Turnitin (Visit site)
Strengths Weaknesses
  • Most widely used in high schools and colleges.
  • Has a high degree of reliability when compared to all anti-plagiarism programs.
  • Easy online access.
  • Has the ability to have multiple submissions for papers.
  • Has options for students to view their reports or not.
  • Fast return on reports.
  • Good detection rates when it comes to rewording.
  • Not free, and has been accused of emphasizing grades rather than academic accountability and learning.
  • Has a character limit of 150,000, and a file limit of 0.5 megabytes.
  • Does not check figures in tables.
  • Does not check for citing information from discussion boards.
  • Does not address the intellectual property infringement of storing student work.
Search methods
  • Searches its own database which includes many bibliographic and web data sources, as well as all submissions the program has received.
  • Also searches a great amount of the Internet.
  • Subscriptions can be individual or for institutions via a four-tier ladder of need.
  • Lowest is $100 for restricted range for institutions, and $4000 for unlimited searches.
Additional information
  • Most preferred by faculties.
  • Effective data sources analysis (DSA) which is the backbone of anti-plagiarism software.
Plagiarism.org (Visit site)
Strengths Weaknesses
  • Mostly used in high schools and colleges.
  • Strong alert capacity for word-for-word plagiarism.
  • Offers digital information tracking in order to address online intellectual property theft.
  • Not effective at addressing rewriting.
Search methods
  • Searches the Internet.
  • Also searches their own database compiled from papers found online, academic websites, documents indexed by search engines, and student papers submitted.
  • Ongoing cost for continued use.
Additional information
  • Overall does not stand up to compete with Turnitin.
SafeAssign (Visit site)
Strengths Weaknesses
  • This program is designed to help educate students as to properly cite, and focused more on instruction rather than punishment scenarios.
  • Cannot be bought alone, but is part of a bundle of Blackboard clients as it is part of the CMS package used by many schools.
Search methods
  • Utilizes an advanced algorithm to analyze submissions against an Internet Archive of over 8 billion documents, academic databases including over 9 million articles, and their archive of student submissions.
  • Also employs technology tools which have been designed to identify rewording and paraphrased tactics.
  • Depends on the institutional make up, but overall not a free software.
Additional information
  • N/A
iThenticate.com (Visit site)
Strengths Weaknesses
  • This software is designed for law firms, publishers, corporations, and other organizations who are looking to protect only their own intellectual property.
  • Has no unique databased, and does not search previously submitted data.
Search methods
  • Only searches the Internet.
  • N/A
Additional information
  • N/A
Copyscape (Visit site)
Strengths Weaknesses
  • Primarily used for businesses, bloggers, article writers, and content marketers.
  • Has been called the gold standard of plagiarism detectors.
  • Has many helpful resources to help people understand their rights, laws, and how to apply the tool on their site.
  • Has a forum for users to share their experiences, ask questions, and discuss topics surrounding plagiarism evasion.
  • Highly respected in the freelance writing industry.
  • Had a strong beginning, but has reportedly become highly more spotty.
Search methods
  • Searches the Internet.
  • Various costs for various programs.
Additional information
  • N/A

Copyscape: The choice for businesses

Copyscape is the anti-plagiarism software most chosen by business professionals, and the designers who developed the software have been maintaining authenticity for over ten years.

Understanding that no-one is immune from the threat of plagiarism, Copyscape has different tools and tiers to address multiple vulnerabilities.

  • Copyscape Premium provides complete scans for plagiarism for articles prior to publishing.
  • Copysentry provides constant sentry and notification of possible plagiarism.
  • Copyscape Premium API provides plagiarism checking which is automated with operational systems.
  • Copyscape Premium Batch Search monitors large numbers of Internet sites for plagiarism.
Copyscape matchSource: CS
The pic below shows the text entered into Copyscape, how much of the text was a match, and where the match came from.

This multi-tiered approach ensures the highest levels of protection available at this time for Internet content, and Copyscape is continuing to invest in innovation to expand the application of its algorithms.

Best free anti-plagiarism software

The cost of many anti-plagiarism software may be a deterrent to their use by many who are in need of support. This list details some of the most effective FREE anti-plagiarism software available today:

  • Dupli Checker
  • Grammarly
  • Copyleaks
  • PaperRater
  • Plagiarisma
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • Plagium
  • PlagScan
  • PlagTracker
  • Quetext
  • Viper
  • Article Checker
  • SmallSEOTools
  • Dustball
  • CheckForPlagiarism.net
  • Search Engine Reports

Conclusion: Growing smarter on both sides

Plagiarism has grown more prevalent due to the ease of obtaining and copying information on the Internet. Also, the current trends of intellectual property abuse which has resulted from heightened exposure and connectivity.

The Internet has increased the speed of daily life, as well as heightening competition in many markets through the influence of globalization. The Internet has led to many incredible advances and many amazing abuses, and is defined by the motivation of its user.

During this phase of the Internet transforming global culture, technology remains ever innovative. Engineers continue to develop new pathways, and clever hackers finding new ways to subvert rules.

While there are many ways to subvert the general effective nature of anti-plagiarism software, researchers emphasize this requires precision tech skills which many do not have. Software designers are continuing to innovate and improve anti-plagiarism software in the hopes of outsmarting every type of trick. Researchers emphasize,

"The future of cheating also includes the future of technologies to prevent and reduce cheating, which are constantly evolving in response to new cheating techniques, pushing and pulling at one another uncertainty in an awkward waltz."

However, one ideological point is clarified in this debate, as it is not the software which catches the plagiarizer, but the one using the software. As is the case with Turnitin, the software only shows where similarities exist, but it is up to the user, often the educator, to determine what possible role cheating plays.

In this way, human overseers remain the lords of technology. However, this may not always be the case if humans continue to choose to become more reliant upon technology, and substantial development is made is made in artificial intelligence.

Some advocates may emphasize that, over-reliance on technology and displacing relationships between educators and students, may encourage plagiarism as students feel more unsupported.

This debate is complicated to a great degree by the fact that artificial intelligence (AI) is growing to the point where it can contribute writing itself. In this case, the intellectual property would not belong to the creator (a program) but to the owner of the program.

Currently, researchers in the scientific community are experimenting with using AI in the peer reviewing process of their publications. AI currently has the capacity to identify researcher’s possible conflict of interests, send decision letters, and suggest reviews for papers.

Programs are being developed which marry plagiarism checking with image detection software. This ensures that multiple, or manufactured data does not repeat themselves, or being misrepresented. As it stands, experts emphasize human oversight is needed to utilize anti-plagiarism software effectively.

Works Cited

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Barker, Chris. “10 Great Business Ideas That Were Actually Stolen.” businesscareersguide.com, 10 No. 2012.
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Ultius, Inc. "The Ever-Increasing Need for Anti-Plagiarism Software." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 06 Sep. 2017. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/the-ever-increasing-need-for-anti-plagiarism-software.html

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Ultius, Inc. "The Ever-Increasing Need for Anti-Plagiarism Software." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. September 06, 2017 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/the-ever-increasing-need-for-anti-plagiarism-software.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "The Ever-Increasing Need for Anti-Plagiarism Software." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. September 06, 2017 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/the-ever-increasing-need-for-anti-plagiarism-software.html.

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