BY Shulamit Shvartsman for Lawyers.comsm
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?