Boston University takes on term paper firms
February 8, 1998
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Web posted at: 6:40 p.m. EST (2340 GMT)
From Correspondent Brian Jenkins
BOSTON (CNN) -- Boston University is suing eight companies that sell term papers over the Internet, a medium that makes it convenient for students to buy ready-made essays on deadline.
The companies say they warn students not to pass off the papers as their own, but the school wants the federal courts to enforce a Massachusetts law banning the sale of term papers.
"The public has, I think, a right to expect that degrees awarded by colleges and universities are accurate assessments of the work of the person to whom the degree has been awarded," said Jon Westling, president of Boston University.
The university sued several term paper companies 26 years ago and won the case, forcing the Massachusetts legislature to ban the sale of term papers.
Boston University again is taking legal action, hoping that the Massachusetts law can stop eight companies in seven states from selling term papers over the World Wide Web.
One of the papers sold over the Internet
A lawyer for one of the defendants, The Paper Store, located in New Jersey, insists the company is not promoting plagiarism.
"Steps are taken to ensure that the materials are properly cited, that the research materials are provided to the students well in advance of any possible due date for any term papers," said Kenneth Berkland, a defense attorney.
The company has counter-sued and claims its Internet business is protected by the constitutional right of free speech.
But First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams isn't so sure.
"I think the people that prepared this material will have a real hard sell to persuade the courts that when you write a term paper on demand that this is what the First Amendment is all about," Adams said.
The defendants won't have the major online service providers in their corner.
"What we're concerned about is building consumer trust and confidence for the medium of the 21st century, and you do that by enforcing the existing laws," said Brian O'Shaughnessy of the Interactive Services Association, a trade association for new electronic media.
Many buyers have discovered that phony essays they thought would get an A or a B have instead received a C or a D because of unfocused and error-filled writing.
While many students at the university approve of going after the sellers of the term papers, others say the school should target the buyers.
"It's the job of the students to know what they're doing is right or wrong," one student said.