If You Buy An Essay Is It Plagiarism

We also learn a few hard truths from these snippets: that ''A Farewell to Arms,'' which is called ''Hemingway's first book,'' is ''much more than a love story'' (this is a ''high school level'' paper, but still); that Newland Archer's fundamental problem in ''The Age of Innocence'' is his lack of ''tools'' to deal with Countess Olenska; and, reassuringly, that the crucial theme in ''Invisible Man'' is ''the subject of race and racial relations.'' Just think, your children might be spending their drinking money on this stuff.

I bought a prewritten paper on ''The Great Gatsby.'' Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, ash heaps, stupid rich people -- what could go wrong? I also ordered a custom paper, on what I innovatively titled ''The American Dream and 'The Great Gatsby,' '' to see if there was any difference between the two types of book reports.

Surprise: the prewritten paper, on the idea of the hero in ''Gatsby'' (''What is a hero?'' it begins, and later: ''Muscles do not make a hero''), coming in at a reasonable $35, was terrible. The sentences run on, as in this clunker: ''Moreover, the fortune that Gatsby did amount was gained through criminal activities as he had experienced the finer things in life and wished to have a better social position, again he knew that this could only be gained through the status of wealth, in this way Gatsby sought to win the heart of the woman he had fallen in love with, Daisy.'' Faux-elegant words like ''whilst'' butt up against the jarringly conversational: ''Then Nick the narrator discovers who he is bang goes his secret.'' Bang! The paper becomes increasingly sloppy, mimicking the writing patterns of a tired and confused freshman. Maybe this is the point.

Another surprise: the custom-written paper, delivered in three days for $180, a tenth of a community college's annual tuition or the weekend allowance of a wealthy Ivy Leaguer, was a decent piece of work. One passage that probably few undergraduates could dream up even on a good day, after a couple of writing workshops, reads: ''Those who go from rags to riches don't find nirvana or some special land where they are immediately happy, content and removed from earthly worries. They, like Gatsby, find that the reality is that the world is still ugly . . . and that money and power just allow one to ignore those dichotomies a little bit easier.''

Occasionally, the paper even strives for the poetic: ''Idealizing that which has little substance is like saying that once you draw a perfect circle, all of life's secrets will be discovered therein -- the circle is still hollow, no matter how perfectly round and beautiful it is.'' It's a little much, but this paper goes way beyond the green light at the end of the dock.

And compared with the standard paper -- whose dizzy take on the American Dream goes like this: ''Gatsby is the archetypal hero figure, yet he has tasted the bitter ashes of poverty, but then there were so many poor during the turn of the century that he is not alone in that and so like many others of his age he wished never again to be poor'' -- the custom paper is worth coughing up more dough. A's don't come easily, after all.

But wait. So if you're a cheap cheat, your paper will be shoddy, but believable. If you're willing to dig deep for the custom-written papers, you might raise eyebrows. What a bind. Considering that it takes three to four hours to read ''The Great Gatsby'' and perhaps a night to write a short paper, what's actually more amazing is that students would risk their integrity, their education, their unlimited access to sexual experimentation -- all for freeing up 10 measly hours of their already limitless college time.

FINE, I'll admit I was impressed by how efficiently the paper happily popped up in my e-mail in-box. The process is alluring in its simplicity, and more so in its anonymity, except that, in my case, Brenda from the Paper Experts called to tell me, in keeping with the irresponsible-undergraduate theme, that my credit card was maxed out. That unsettling human contact in the midst of my cyber-cheating was creepy and gave me pause. Even had I been a desperate, craven student, Brenda might have been enough for me to call the whole thing off.

And although these sites may proliferate, thanks to the hungry Web marketplace, they won't go completely unchecked. Colleges can sign up for plagiarism-detector Web sites like Turnitin.com, which allows professors to submit papers for an originality check (incidentally, newspaper and magazine editors might be interested in checking out its publishing arm -- iThenticate.com). But can those search engines detect custom-written papers, like my $180, A-plus ''Gatsby'' paper, assuming it's an original? No, not this book report, anyway. It passed with flying colors. Now that it's part of Turnitin's database, however -- and supposing that even the hard workers at the Paper Experts get lazy once in a while -- pity the 19-year-old who goes shopping online for some quick help with the American Dream.

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Paying someone to write your paper, whether it’s a fellow student or an essay mill, is a form of plagiarism and is usually considered one of the most serious by teachers and administrators alike.

That’s because a teacher doesn’t just assign a paper to have you produce one, the goal of the assignment is to showcase your understanding of the subject, your ability to communicate that information and how well you analyze and draw conclusions from it.

In short, essays are designed to test your skills as a student and, if you simply pay someone else to write that paper, it is impossible for your teacher to evaluate your understanding or your progress.

Despite this, many still claim that since the use was “allowed” by the original author that it is ethically acceptable. After all, it’s a case of “victimless” plagiarism.

But even if we ignore the issues about what the goals of the assignment are and how cheating on such an assignment hurts you as a student, there are other victims to be considered.

First, by turning in a paper you paid for, you are lying to your teacher. When you place your name on top of your paper or on the cover sheet, you are saying that everything in that paper, unless specifically cited, is your work.

If you pay someone to write the paper, that is clearly untrue.

Second, other students in the class did the work and are earning a grade based on their efforts. They chose not to pay someone to write their paper, either out of ethical concerns or fear of punishment, and are at a disadvantage to someone who simply paid for their paper.

But while buying an essay is definitely a form of cheating, it’s very likely that you won’t end up owning the essay that you “bought”.

The reason for that is because, under copyright law, buying a work doesn’t necessarily transfer copyright into it, much like how buying a DVD doesn’t make you the owner of the film.

Copyright in a work, whether it is a paper, song or film, resides with the author of the work. Unless that work is by an employee of a company or the author has signed a contract (which must be in writing), the copyright in the work stays with the author.

Since just buying an essay doesn’t make the author an employee, you don’t own the work unless you have a contract transferring copyright in it. While the person has agreed to let you use, it’s still, legally, their work.

As such, they can turn the paper in themselves, sell it to other students, post it online or do nearly anything they want with it.

Buying a paper does not make it your work, neither for the assignment it’s submitted for nor in the eyes of the law.

When it comes to buying essays, your best bet is to save your money and do the work yourself.

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