Wired - Cheaters Often Prosper By Joanna Glasner
02:00 AM Aug. 26, 2002 PT
The history of the Internet is filled with stories about companies that tried to make a positive change in the world and ended up failing miserably.
And then there are online term-paper sites. Despite inspiring nothing but scorn from educators, purveyors of collegiate prose are finding life on the dark side of online commerce quite lucrative.
"They're the only ones besides casinos or porn really making money on the Internet," said Kenny Sahr, founder of SchoolSucks.com, a free homework site that makes money posting ads for fee-charging term paper providers. If his advertising customers are any indication, Sahr said, online term-paper mills are weathering the dot-com bust remarkably well.
With the new school year about to begin, research paper companies are gearing up for peak season. It appears academicians' attempts to eradicate these hotbeds of plagiarism have done little to stifle their growth.
SchoolSucks is no exception. Although the 6-year-old site hasn't made him rich, Sahr says it does provide enough money "to pay for my habits" and doesn't require full-time work. He runs the site with a staff of two, each working out of their homes and periodically holding meetings on a beach in Tel Aviv, where the operation is based.
Sahr attributes the site's longevity largely to the fact that it gets its material for free, mostly through submissions from students. This keeps the cost of running the business quite low.
SchoolSucks draws about 10,000 unique visitors on a typical day and has been growing steadily, Sahr said.
Meanwhile, traffic to competing sites isn't slowing either.
"I don't think we've had a year so far where we haven't grown," said Jared Silvermintz, college student and co-founder of Genius Papers. The site, which Silvermintz started as a junior in high school six years ago, charges $20 for a one-year subscription to a soon-to-be-upgraded database that he says will contain more than 40,000 papers.
Silvermintz says he's probably sold more than 20,000 subscriptions in the six years he and his partner, Josh Levy, have been running the site.
Naturally, such success stories are anathema to educators, who had trouble enough fighting plagiarism before the Internet began tempting cheaters. Although nearly all paper sites urge students to use their materials for "research purposes only," it's an accepted fact in the business that not everyone follows the rules.
"The way we want people to use this is as a research database," Silvermintz said. "But as far as how it's actually used, I'm sure there's a ton of kids using it for plagiarism."
This basic truth is not lost on teachers. Over the past few years, educators have grown wise to cheaters' tactics, said Diane Waryold, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity.
"It used to be that you would look at a sample of a student's work and you would get a gut feeling if it was more sophisticated than their standard of writing," Waryold said. "Now teachers will search through Google and they'll do a bit of investigation."
Waryold says academics are also changing the kind of assignments they give, looking for unique topics that are more difficult to plagiarize.
When all else fails, teachers also have an expanded array of tools they can use to crack down on plagiarism, such as Turnitin.com, a service that looks for similarities between student papers and previously published works.
Teachers are also among the more frequent visitors to the term-paper sites they so abhor. In a user survey conducted by SchoolSucks, 48 percent of visitors to the site identified themselves as teachers.
Presumably, most were using the site to weed out plagiarism in their classrooms, although Sahr says he also gets resumes from teachers interested in working as term-paper writers.
But unlike many other sites that provide custom papers, SchoolSucks doesn't pay for material. Thus, it provides little opportunity for out-of-work term-paper writers.
Sahr says students should also keep the free submission policy in mind before they consider copying a paper from his archives. Even if they don't get caught, it might not be the greatest academic move.
"It doesn't say on the papers 'A plus' or 'A minus' or anything. In fact, I think a lot of them stink," Sahr said.